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Houlton Regional Hospital confirms first case of coronavirus

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HOULTON, Maine — After managing to hold out for weeks since the World Health Organization first declared the novel coronavirus COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the virus has finally been confirmed in Aroostook County.

Ellen Bartlett, infection preventionist at Houlton Regional Hospital, confirmed Friday via the hospital’s emergency hotline that the Houlton hospital has had its first positive test for coronavirus.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

“The patient was evaluated at Houlton Regional Hospital’s emergency department recently,” Bartlett said in the pre-recorded message on the hospital’s hotline. “All the appropriate measures were taken with this patient. The patient and staff all wore appropriate personal protective equipment and all procedures were followed.”

Bartlett went on to say that the staff involved with the patient’s care have been notified of the positive test results. 

She added the patient was discharged and sent home to recuperate. No information was given about the gender or age of the patient.

The hospital also released a list of updated guidelines for visitors to the hospital, announcing that every person entering the hospital must put on a protective mask, and that no visitors would be allowed in the emergency department or any inpatient unit, with possible exceptions for compassionate care, obstetrics and pediatric patients. 

“If you are feeling ill, please contact your provider,” Bartlett said. “If you have symptoms such as cough, fever or sore throat or shortness of breath, but are otherwise healthy, you will not be tested. You will most likely be told to stay home and self-isolate. Follow the guidance given by your [medical] provider as to when that can be discontinued.”

She added that if a person’s symptoms were severe, and they felt they were in need of urgent care, they should contact the emergency room to let them know before coming. Bartlett also urged patients exhibiting symptoms to inform any ambulance personnel of their condition.

Stores which had remained open in Houlton during the initial closings to contain the outbreak, such as bottle redemption stores, were already announcing they were closed due to the first reported case.

Shawn Anderson, director of operations at the hospital, said Friday afternoon that hospital staff who treated the patient were well-protected and will not have to enter quarantine. 

“The procedures and practices they followed were appropriate,” Anderson said. “It’s safe to say they were fully protected, as if they weren’t even there.”

Prior to the confirmed case, the hospital had tested 52 other patients for COVID-19, but this had been the first one to come back positive, Bartlett said. Of those other tests, five are still awaiting results. 

Anderson also said that hospital is well-prepared to handle the situation and Aroostook County residents benefit from living in a large, rural area with a low population to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“If ever there was a county that was in a position to be able to employ self-isolation, stay at home and separate ourselves from one another, Aroostook County is that county,” he said.

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