An automobile ferry arrives at North Haven, Maine, Monday, March 16, 2020. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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ROCKLAND, Maine ― Town officials in North Haven have reversed a ban restricting travel to the island that was imposed earlier this week in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The unprecedented travel ban imposed by the town on March 15 restricted access to the island to full-time residents only.

The North Haven Select Board has voted to rescind the outright ban, however officials are “strongly encouraging people to remain where they are,” according to North Haven Town Administrator Rick Lattimer.

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“The [new] resolution strongly encourages people to refrain from traveling away from the places where they currently live — whether that is on North Haven or elsewhere. The resolution also recommends that if people reside in places with better access to medical care than North Haven can provide they should refrain from traveling to the island,” Lattimer said in a letter to Gov. Janet Mills regarding the town’s actions.

The initial ban on travel was put in place after town officials heard people who were not full-time residents were travelling to the island to ride out the coronavirus outbreak.

“No one was banging on the town office doors demanding action — instead, the board acted quickly in the belief that it needed to protect everyone it could from the virus,” Lattimer said.

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North Haven has about a population of about 400 year round residents. The island’s medical facility is not certified for emergencies and is only staffed by one nurse practitioner.

While no one has tested positive for the virus, Lattimer said if there were to be an outbreak of COVID-19 on the island, they do not have the means to handle it. Residents would have to take the ferry to the mainland to seek care.

In an attempt to limit the possibility of the virus spreading to the island, the board voted to restrict travel to the island to only full-time residents. However, some people saw the ban on travel as an infringement on the rights of property owners who do not live on the island full-time.

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“The distinction between ‘full-time residents’ and people who do not reside here full-time was my quick way of trying to distinguish between people who only have one place to live and people who may have a choice to remain where they have access to better medical care,” Lattimer said. “I am trying to undo the damage I inadvertently did in our attempt to limit the spread of the virus and protect our resources.”

In his letter to the governor, Lattimer strongly encouraged that the administration take steps to ensure that the Maine State Ferry Service is taking steps to limit the spread of the virus on its vessels, such as encouraging passengers to stay in their vehicles while on the ferry.

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