University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy holds her test tube and funnel at the COVID-19 testing site at the Collins Center for the Arts on Feb. 5, 2021. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

PRESQUE ISLE and CARIBOU, Maine — The hospitals in Caribou and Presque Isle have stopped administering COVID-19 tests to people who want to travel because they have an increased demand for testing those who are ill.

That means people in central Aroostook County will have to travel an hour north or south to get the test required to enter Canada.

“Our priority is individuals who are symptomatic or have been exposed to someone who is COVID positive,” Karen Gonya, spokesperson for Northern Light AR Gould in Presque Isle, said. “We cannot turn around non-medically necessary test results in the time frame that is needed for travel purposes.”

Although the local medical institutions were performing the COVID testing on travelers, the tests were sent to the Maine CDC lab for processing. Due to the higher number of medically necessary tests the state lab is handling, it no longer has the capacity to process the tests for travelers, and neither does AR Gould, Gonya said.

In order for fully vaccinated Americans to travel into Canada without quarantining, they must produce a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of their arrival at the border. Their information must also be uploaded in the ArriveCAN mobile app, and travelers may be subject to another test at the border depending on the length of their visit.

The rules for border travel have been in place since Aug. 9, when Canada reopened its border to Americans for the first time in 16 months. The American border remains closed to nonessential travel.

This is on top of an increase in positive COVID-19 cases coming through the hospitals, with Northern Light in Presque Isle limiting visitors due to an increase of COVID-19 cases.

Between Aug. 16 and 22, AR Gould Hospital and its Presque Isle and Caribou clinics processed 27 positive COVID-19 tests, with 19 reported during the Aug. 21-22 weekend. The increase in COVID-19 patients prompted the hospital to temporarily close its emergency room to visitors before reopening with restrictions on Monday.

Chief medical officer Regen Gallagher at Cary Medical Center in Caribou also attributed a high demand for COVID-19 tests as a reason behind their decision to stop testing travelers, in addition to a shortage in laboratory staff.

“We are focused on caring for those with COVID,” Gallagher said. “We currently have no plans to open up travel testing.”

As of Tuesday morning, Cary’s website said that four patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 at that facility.

Health center locations in other parts of Aroostook County remain available for people who want to take a COVID-19 test for travel purposes. As of Aug. 23, Katahdin Valley Health Center in Houlton and Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent both continued accepting appointments for travel-related testing.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that Northern Light AR Gould stopped testing travelers for COVID-19 because of the 72-hour window in which results were needed to cross the border into Canada.