Servers at Route 66 Restaurant in Bar Harbor check in with customers seated on Cottage Street July 3. The plan to test asymptomatic workers in tourist businesses for COVID-19 is intended to protect them as well as provide early warnings of potential community transmission. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Virus testing for tourism workers to begin

Updated July 15

BAR HARBOR — Beginning next week, 200 public-facing workers in local tourism businesses will each be tested six times for COVID-19 at Mount Desert Island Hospital, once every two weeks for the rest of the season.

The “surveillance” or “sentinel” testing of asymptomatic frontline employees is intended to protect them as well as provide early warnings of potential community transmission as the island welcomes visitors from around the country.

The plan was included in an announcement from the state Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday about the “swab and send” program. Most of the sites operating under this program will offer specimen collection free of charge to anyone who believes they may have COVID-19 or could have been exposed to the virus that causes the illness, with or without symptoms, as defined under the state’s standing order.

The state’s agreement with MDI Hospital, however, is different. It does not provide for free tests for those who are not part of this employee testing program. For the general public, the hospital is only providing testing for those who are showing symptoms and have both a referral from a health care provider and an appointment.

Patients may be charged for tests as well, although they should be covered by insurance plans. “In order to assure that our samples are run as efficiently as possible, not all of our tests go to the state lab, and as such, there are varying fees associated with each lab we send to,” hospital spokesperson Oka Hutchins said. “We can specify that a sample goes to the state lab by request if a free test is needed.”

The asymptomatic frontline workforce testing pilot program was developed by a Downeast COVID-19 Task Force, which was convened by Healthy Acadia and the hospital and includes town managers, chambers of commerce, Acadia National Park and The Jackson Laboratory.

The voluntary program includes up to 10 employees from each participating business, a total of 200 people in two cohorts of 100. Each person will have an anterior nares swab (less invasive than a nasopharyngeal swab) sample collected at the hospital’s outdoor testing pavilion every two weeks between now and October.

The hospital will provide a doctor’s order to perform the tests and employers are being asked to contribute $15 per test toward the sample collection costs. “Everything else is covered through in-kind contributions, donations and state funding,” Hutchins said.

“We commend the state for working with our community and the Downeast COVID-19 Task Force to pilot this innovative testing model,” said Chrissi Maguire, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. “By providing regular COVID-19 surveillance data for a subset of frontline employees throughout the summer season, this pilot will help protect not only our workforce but our greater community and our visitors as well.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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