A False Sense Of Security: Physicians Concerned About Number Of People Fleeing To Maine

Mar 30, 2020

State officials, including Maine Gov. Janet Mills, have expressed concerns about people from out of state coming to Maine seeking refuge from the coronavirus. Physicians are also concerned.

Dr. Jean Antonucci is a primary care physician in Farmington. She also works for a company that provides telemedicine statewide. And within the past week, she says, she noticed that a lot of the phone calls she was getting came from within Maine, but the patients themselves had home addresses in New York City.

"And these people informed me that they had left New York City for, in some cases, their summer home. In one case a patient told me that they left New York City and had rented a home for the foreseeable future."

New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States. As of Friday, it had nearly 45,000 confirmed cases statewide and more than 500 deaths. Antonucci says she is concerned that New Yorkers are fleeing the virus and unintentionally bringing it here. Even though some of the patients she spoke to say they are trying to self-quarantine.

"But they are not entirely. They go out to get food. In one case, a person left without their medications in New York City and has to make arrangements to get that,” Antonucci says. “So I'm very concerned they're spreading the virus. And they must be terrified. They must be terrified. But instead of sheltering in place, they've come here and may be endangering us."

Dr. Jim Jarvis of Northern Light Health says he is also concerned about an influx of people from other states "who may have a second home here or a family here, who are moving from other parts of the country up to Maine because of our low reported numbers."

On Friday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine hit 168. That number is dwarfed by the tens of thousands of cases in New York. But Jarvis says that's creating a false sense of security among both residents and those from out of state who think the coronavirus isn't much of a problem in Maine.

"Nothing can be further from the truth from that. The only reason why our numbers are so low here in the state Maine is because we're just not testing as many people. And that's simply because we don't have the ability to do those testing."

Jarvis says it's critical that residents leave their homes only for essential needs, like the grocery store, and, when they do, to keep a six foot distance from others.

To New Yorkers who have come here, Dr. Antonucci says don't go out, period.

"I'm sympathetic to their fear, but they shouldn't have come here, and they should stay at home for 14 days, completely."

Antonucci says the situation requires action at the state level. The coronavirus is a national emergency, she says, and people shouldn't be allowed to travel freely.

Willis Ryder Arnold contributed to this report.

Originally published 5:39 p.m. March 28, 2020.