ATC Warns of Surge in COVID Cases Near 100 Mi Wilderness
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) warned hikers today in a Facebook post of a reported uptick in COVID-19 cases near Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness. “The ATC has received multiple reports of COVID-19 infections along the #AppalachianTrail in Maine, including a significant increase in the area around Monson and the 100 Mile Wilderness,” ATC wrote.
COVID-19 cases in Maine have been steadily on the rise since the beginning of July alongside most of the US. New cases have actually decreased by 29% over the last two weeks in Piscataquis County, where Baxter State Park and the town of Monson are located. However, the county has experienced a 110% increase in hospitalizations during that same period, according to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Penobscot County, home to the town of Millinocket, has experienced a 35% uptick in cases in the last 14 days and an 85% uptick in hospitalizations, according to the New York Times.
“These are dangerous times and we are clearly in the middle of a serious surge in cases. The Delta Variant is extremely contagious and is spreading rapidly throughout the country,” wrote Millinocket Regional Hospital CEO Robert Peterson in a statement to the public last week.
One individual, who wished to remain anonymous, described picking up a sick AT thru-hiker from the trail north of Monson. The hiker had reached out for help and the individual drove him to the hospital. ” I felt that maybe his life might be in danger if he’s that sick.”
Hospital staff wearing PPE greeted the truck and subsequently diagnosed the hiker with COVID-19. “He had already been sick for at least four days. (The hospital) told him to hunker up for four to six more days before he continued, because he was set on continuing.”
Millinocket Regional Hospital has reportedly been conducting rapid-response COVID testing at Abol Bridge in recent days.
“It’s not worth taking a chance.”
Phil Pepin of 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures, a Monson-based outfitter and hostel, announced on Facebook yesterday that he would be closing his doors for the season in response to the uptick in cases.
“As of today, I will no longer be taking reservations for the remainder of the 2021 season,” Pepin wrote. “I’ll honor those guests who currently have reservations, but due to the recent Covid outbreak on the Appalachian Trail, the second time in Monson, it’s not worth taking a chance. I hope to see everyone next year.”
Lloyd Kelly of Millinocket-based Katahdin Shuttle also said he’s shutting down his operation due to COVID. “It’s not worth the risk,” said Kelly of his decision, despite the fact that hiking season is still in full swing. “Last year I shut down early (as well) and I never did recover from that… some days I get 40 to 50 calls a day through the 100 Mile Wilderness.”
Katahdin Shuttle offers rides, food drops, and lodging throughout the 100 Mile Wilderness region. Kelly says he will honor existing reservations or refund deposits but will not accept any new reservations.
“We did the best by hikers we could.”
Meanwhile, Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, an iconic Monson-based establishment, currently does not plan to shut down, according to owner Kim “Hippie Chick” Hester. Hester and her husband both had COVID-19 last month. Volunteers from the local community stepped in to run the business while the Hesters quarantined. The pair has since recovered fully and is now back running the hostel.
Some in the community feel that Shaw’s should have handled the situation differently. “They’re good people… they just made a couple of mistakes. They should have been shut down,” said one Millinocket resident familiar with the situation, who wished to remain unnamed. “If that was me, I would have shut right down and hired a professional cleaner, knowing I had even one infected person in there.”
Hester maintains that she and her husband followed all CDC protocols when they got sick. Only vaccinated individuals with negative COVID tests were permitted to work. Meanwhile, any staff member who tested positive went into quarantine.
Shaw’s suspended its famous daily breakfast service for over a week during that period. The hostel also altered its shuttle schedule to limit exposure. Hester says she was transparent about having COVID and actively discouraged people from staying at Shaw’s over the phone. “In our situation, we did the best by hikers we could… We were just basically just open for people that needed to be here.”
Hester says she knows of a few individuals who did test positive after staying at the hostel but points out that those hikers stayed at Shaw’s before she and her husband got sick—so it’s unclear who affected whom. “What we heard from other hikers is that Shaw’s took care of it well, because we communicated to everyone.”
“Practice extreme caution.”
The ATC is urging hikers to “practice extreme caution,” even if they are vaccinated. Hikers should wash their hands frequently; wear masks indoors/when social distancing is impossible; and should avoid shelters, privies, and shared bunkrooms. Unvaccinated individuals should visit vaccines.gov to find out where they can receive the immunization.
Any hikers who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or who have been in contact with someone who tested positive, should “quarantine away from others immediately and contact a health professional to get tested and discuss next steps,” per the Conservancy’s Facebook post. Hikers who suspect they contracted COVID-19 on the AT are encouraged to report it to ATC.
For more information on COVID-19 safety on the A.T., visit appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.
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