For town managers and municipal officials across Maine, determining how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic represents one of the most novel — and challenging — issues that towns across our state have ever confronted. Although the Maine Center for Disease Control and Governor’s office have provided daily updates on policies to keep Mainers safe, it’s up to local officials to figure out the best way to implement these changes to help residents remain healthy and safe during the pandemic.
To meet this challenge, municipal officials from Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay, and Southport came together in April to form a collaborative COVID-19 Rapid Response Incident Command Team. The goal of this group was to share information, best practices and promote town collaboration to ensure residents were receiving the information and assistance they needed to cope with the pandemic.
The COVID Incident Command Team, chaired by Peggy Pinkham, includes the town managers or select board members from each of the three towns, as well as representatives from Boothbay Region Emergency Management, Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, and staff from the Boothbay Region Community Resource Center. Boothbay Register Editor Kevin Burnham volunteered to join the group so the paper could provide key updates and information about COVID-19 to residents across the peninsula. Police Chief Bob Hasch updates the group on COVID-19 compliance and State Representative Holly Stover shares information on state and federal funding opportunities that can provide additional resources to the towns.
In early May, the Incident Command Team interviewed school officials, key nonprofit and community groups to determine what resources were available in the community to address food insecurity and health care questions. Because of the spring business closures, one major concern was food security for people displaced from jobs during the initial phase of the pandemic. Working with the local food pantry, schools and other food support programs, the Incident Command team monitored food assistance programs to ensure that no one in our community was going hungry. Fortunately, local food resources, including the distribution of student weekend lunches have been well managed over the spring and summer.
As part of the bi-monthly Incident Command reports, the team regularly reviews local health care resources and shares information about the rapidly evolving status of testing in our region. Incident Command members had a virtual meeting with the region’s state Senator and House Representative to ensure that the Boothbay peninsula had appropriate access to state supported rapid testing centers.
Since the Boothbay region is heavily dependent on tourism, the Incident Command group has also spent considerable time determining how the towns can help business owners be better informed about the latest COVID-19 safety precautions for safe opening. Working collaboratively with the Chamber of Commerce, Boothbay Harbor received a Keep ME Healthy grant that is providing resources to the Chamber so it can assist businesses with COVID-19 signage, mask and sanitizing purchases and other key materials to ensure that residents and visitors have a safe experience when they are out shopping, dining or staying overnight in town.
As fall approaches, the Incident Command Team has been in close touch with AOS 98 school officials. Superintendent Laser has shared the evolving school reopening plans and discussed areas where additional resources may be required.
The Incident Command Team continues to meet every other week to evaluate community needs and monitor ongoing COVID-19 developments that may arise during the fall and winter. Anyone interested in highlighting issues that the Incident Command Team should be aware of should contact their local town manager to pass along concerns.