Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center building shortly after home officials announced there had been positive COVID-19 cases within the facility. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

PRESQUE ISLE, MAINE — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at the Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said Tuesday.

Seven residents and two staff members of the nursing home tested positive for COVID-19 after a staff member is believed to have brought the virus into the facility, administrator Mark McKenna said. The home reported the outbreak on Monday.

It is the first outbreak in Presque Isle since three employees of the city’s Walmart tested positive in July, and the first at a nursing home in Aroostook County. The Maine CDC defines a COVID-19 outbreak as three or more epidemiologically linked cases at a single facility.

Nursing home staff first learned of a probable positive case at the facility on Nov. 19 — later confirmed by a COVID-19 test. All staff and residents who were in contact with the staff member were then tested for COVID-19, revealing the new cases, McKenna said.

McKenna said COVID-19 had entered the facility due to a “casual encounter”: a staff member had eaten lunch with a friend who was asymptomatic at the time of the meal, but tested positive for COVID-19 about a week later.

The employee was tested shortly after, revealing the first positive COVID-19 case in the home.

“Immediately, [the staff member] was sent home and not allowed to work until after a specific quarantine time,” McKenna said. “They continue to be out as of this date.”

All nursing home residents — including those who tested positive — have been isolating in their rooms since the employee tested positive, while infected employees have been asked to isolate at home, McKenna said. He also said staff had increased surveillance of residents.

Staff will continue to test residents who were in close contact with the infected staff member each week, McKenna said.

The CDC’s announcement comes as COVID-19 cases shot up across Aroostook County, a region that had been relatively untouched by the disease.

Total cases in The County have risen from 91 on Nov. 19 to 146 yesterday, according to Maine CDC data. There are 46 active cases in Aroostook County, far more than have ever been present, though Aroostook continues to have the lowest COVID-19 rate in Maine.

COVID-19 has been deadly for nursing homes across the United States: 331,904 nursing home residents have been confirmed to have COVID-19, while nearly 70,000 have died from the disease since January, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 410 confirmed cases in Maine nursing homes, 62 have died.

After several months of only allowing visitors to communicate with residents through a window, McKenna said the home had begun allowing limited indoor visits in November. Visitations were held in a special room designed for social distancing, with masks required at all times.

Nursing home officials canceled all visitations once the positive case was detected, McKenna said.

In March, McKenna estimated that the median age of residents in the home was 80. Those in such an age range are some of the most at-risk of dying or other serious health implications from COVID-19.

The center first began instituting COVID-19 regulations in March, when an initial requirement that visitors be temperature-checked turned into a total prohibition as coronavirus cases grew nationwide. Gatherings inside the homes were restricted as well: group eating and other activities were suspended, and residents had to be six feet away from each other at all times.

Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center has operated since 1976. It is owned by the Cyr family, who also owns the Caribou Rehab and Nursing Center.