The town of St. Stephen, N.B., is hoping to avoid getting caught up in a COVID-19 outbreak at a pulp mill just a few miles across the U.S. border in Maine.
Officials at Woodland Pulp LLC in Baileyville, Maine, confirmed the outbreak Oct. 1.
In an updated post on its Facebook page Tuesday, Calais Regional Hospital said 19 people have now tested positive for the coronavirus in association with the mill outbreak.
It said 14 people are outside contractors, two are Woodland employees and three are “household members.”
The mill is a 20-minute drive from the St. Stephen border with Calais.
Terry Dempsey, co-owner of Something’s Brewing Café in St. Stephen, said the outbreak has created a buzz in the community.
“We haven’t had any (COVID-19 cases) in our community or in Charlotte County that we’re aware of since the (original) outbreak started,” Dempsey said. “When you hear about, potentially, an outbreak in your neighbours across the border, or potentially in our town, I do think that people do start to worry a little bit.”
Seven Canadians work at the mill, although it’s not clear if they cross the border every day to do so.
St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said there is a heightened sense of awareness of a possible outbreak in the community.
He said people are redoubling their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We should be stepping it up right now because we’ve all gotten relaxed,” MacEachern said. “I’m guilty of that. We’ve gotten relaxed because it’s been pretty comfortable here in our province. But now it’s, again, here at our doorstep right now. Let’s take this on and step it up.”
New Brunswick chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said officials are keeping tabs on the Canadian workers.
“We are in very close contact with CDC Maine (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention),” Russell told reporters in Fredericton. “And the public health regional team is working very closely on the ground at this point in time. But as of right now, there is no information that says that any of the Canadians, at this point in time, have tested positive.”
Dempsey said businesses in the community may be impacted if people exercise extra caution and opt to limit trips out of the home to necessary ventures only, as they did during the early days of the pandemic.
“People come here to socialize, to get together, spend time together,” he said. “It’s a gathering place for the community. So when people don’t feel safe and comfortable to come to the gathering place, that would be really concerning to us.”
MacEachern said many St. Stephen residents are showing compassion for their American friends.
He said essential workers are still crossing the border both ways, so the first near-border COVID-19 outbreak could have occurred in his town.
“That situation could have happened right here in our town in one of our mills or our factories, and we could be dealing with the same thing,” he said. “