by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
After 16 days in isolation, Ben and Allison Edwards were relieved to learn they tested negative for COVID-19. The couple, who manage Schoppee Farm in Machias, returned from a trip to Europe last month and were advised to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“We were in contact with Dr. Pinksy and [other local doctors], and they universally pushed us to quarantine, every single one,” said Ben Edwards. On day 14 they were tested, and that test came back negative on Friday, March 13. Edwards said the quarantine period was challenging, but not impossible.
“It was occasionally strange when I would think, ‘I’m just going to run to town and grab a pizza,’ then I would remember, oh, no I’m not,” said Ben.
As of Friday, March 13, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had tested 111 people for COVID-19. Of those, 91 tests came back negative, two tests came back presumptive positive, meaning the initial state test came back positive, but the federal CDC facility was still working to confirm the result. One test came back preliminary presumptive positive, and 17 test results were still pending.
The Edwards manage Washington County's first hemp farm and were traveling to learn more about European hemp farming practices. Ben Edwards recalls that coronavirus was in the news, but not the crisis it is today when they departed for Europe last month. Unfortunately, their travels took them through northern Italy, now the epicenter of Europe’s largest outbreak. They were meeting with farming equipment manufacturers when Italy’s cases began to spike.
“So that’s when we decided to leave because I was concerned they were going to start locking things down,” said Edwards. They departed Milan, Italy for France, where they awaited a flight back to the United States. While in Paris, Edwards set out to find some face masks. He found none, effectively.
“Some opportunistic guy was asking €900 (euros) for 10 really shoddy looking masks,” said Edwards. Nine hundred euros is roughly equivalent to $1,000.
Safely back in Machias, the time in quarantine passed quickly, largely because the Edwards had so much work to catch up on. But also because they had support.
“[Quarantine] is not possible without some help, but we have great family and friends,” said Edwards. “We watched Netflix, and did a lot of face-timing.” To get supplies, the Edwards would text their grocery list to family members, who would then drop bags of groceries on their front porch and leave.
Dr. Robert Pinsky, a Northern Light epidemiologist who lives in Machias, said self-quarantine is crucial to preventing a widespread outbreak Downeast.
“Social distancing is crucial. If you look at the predictions, if we do nothing different now, we’re looking at third of the [United States] population infected, hundreds of thousands of people dying,” said Pinsky. “All of that is alterable, but it means major interventions now. Two weeks from now we’re going to be just like Italy if nothing is changed.”
Outside of China, Italy has confirmed the largest number of COVID-19 cases, in part due to massive testing, something the United States has not done. On March 12, Italy’s coronavirus cases spiked by almost 22 percent, and the number of deaths increased by 23 percent, to 1,016. The total confirmed cases topped 17,000.
“If you look at any of the models, this is going to rapidly progress [in the United States] over the next several weeks, And there’s no expectation that our experience is going to be any different [from Italy’s],” said Pinsky, who believes steps taken today by the federal government should have been taken “weeks ago.”
Now that they’re out of quarantine and cleared of possible infection, the Edwards want to help others who must enter isolation to protect their health. An offer posted on the Schoppee Farm Facebook page encourages vulnerable people to stay at home and reach out for help.
“If you need assistance running errands, picking up supplies, getting to doctor visits, or help with other logistical problems, please let us know,” wrote the Edwards. “We will be using our van to deliver supplies to the more vulnerable in our community to help them avoid as much exposure as possible. You can reach us via email at [email protected] or you can call or text the company line at (207) 271-3600.”
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established the Maine COVID-19 hotline, which can be reached by dialing 211 or 1-866-811-5695. Patients should call their doctor or the Maine CDC for medical questions, but the hotline can answer questions about case numbers, travel advisories, and other general COVID-19 issues.