During the entire first year of the pandemic, the island community of Islesboro had only one known case of COVID-19.
But that has changed.
Seven people tested positive earlier this week for the virus, and more than 30 people who are considered close contacts of the Islesboro Central School community are in quarantine.
For an island with a year round population of less than 600, it’s a lot to take in.
“There was a sense that we were turning a corner and things were getting better. There was a lot of hope,” Sky Purdy, who runs the Island Market, said Wednesday. “This definitely knocked the wind out of our sails a little bit.”
Because of three positive cases identified earlier this week in the school, it shifted to all-remote education and will not hold in-person classes again until Monday, April 5. At Islesboro Central School, students from kindergarten to 12th grade share one building. And even though only the elementary school was meeting in person on Monday of this week, when the people later diagnosed with COVID were in the building, no students will be able to return until then, according to Head of School Charles Hamm.
“The reason the whole school is remote now is that we have so many staff who share both floors,” he said. “That’s why the school can’t function. There are so many connections.”
He is hopeful that precautions taken at the school, including mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitizing, will prevent the disease from being shared more broadly in the school population.
“We’re so careful,” he said. “This is testing our protocols, but I’m pretty confident that it’s working pretty well.”
Other island locales also are closed for the time being, including the Islesboro Sporting Club, which offers takeout on Thursday night, the Islesboro Community Center and the Islesboro Fitness Center.
On Wednesday, health center staff administered more than 100 COVID tests, according to information shared by the town on the COVID hotline recorded message and on the community Facebook page. Results from that round of testing have not yet come back.
Even before information about the number of positive cases was released Thursday afternoon, lots of islanders were getting nervous, according to Town Manager Janet Anderson.
“We’ve just been really, really really lucky,” she said. “I think we had taken a deep breath … [now] I think people are anxious.”
Purdy said he’s noticed that, too. Online and curbside orders from the Island Market definitely picked up this week, and after the results of the latest round of COVID-19 testing are released, he and his wife, Marianne Purdy, will decide if they want to go back to curbside pickup only.
“We’ve been doing a lot of deliveries to people in quarantine,” he said. “I think the anxiety is heightened more by the fact that we just haven’t dealt with it out here. It’s easy to get complacent in our bubble.”
Some islanders said they wanted the town to share more information about the extent of the disease’s spread on Islesboro.
“I think everybody’s a little nervous. We’re very interconnected here,” island resident Becky Schnur said Thursday morning, before the numbers were released. “I don’t have any sense of the scale. Those numbers will help me decide, do I only do curbside at the Island Market? Should my husband who goes to the post office every day limit that to once a week, and wait until there’s nobody in there? Those are risk-benefit questions that we need to know.”
But even as islanders wait to see if Wednesday’s tests reveal more positive results, there is good news, too. Anderson said she feels relieved that the vaccination clinics the center has run in the last few months have been well attended. So far, 100 islanders have received both their first and second shots of the vaccine. Another batch of residents has received their first shot and are due to get their next one on April 12.
As well, the health center has plenty of personal protective equipment on hand, which wasn’t the case at the beginning of the pandemic.
“A year ago, if we had cases, they would have been panicked,” the town manager said. “Now our clinic is very well set up.”
Still, the realities of COVID are challenging for any tight knit community. That’s especially true on Maine’s island communities, where the distance from the mainland means that residents must rely upon each other all the more.
Right now, that closeness means that islanders and mainlanders connected to Islesboro are stepping up to make sure the people in quarantine are able to get the food, medicine and other things they need.
“By nature of living on an island, they’re used to helping each other and being self-reliant,” Hamm, who lives on the mainland, said. “Everybody wears a lot of hats out there.”