Liz Brown of Massachusetts outside her vacation home in Sweden on Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Seasonal Maine residents Barry and Jane DeNofrio decided to face the coronavirus threat at their ski home in Bridgton instead of their condo in Boxford, Massachusetts, because there’s more air and space in Maine.

On a hike the other morning, Barry DeNofrio said, “We didn’t come close to any people.”

That’s less likely to happen in Massachusetts.

Snowbirds and others with seasonal homes are making their way north earlier than usual – or in the DeNofrios’ case, staying after the ski season closes – as they seek out the calm and relative empty spaces of Maine during a time of chaos in more crowded places.

Barry DeNofrio said he and his wife don’t necessarily feel safer in Maine. Cumberland County is a hotspot of viral outbreaks, he noted. But there’s more room in Maine to keep your distance.

“My preference is, we are going to be here to ride this out. I just think it makes more sense. There is a lot more air and more space,” the retired school teacher said by phone from Bridgton on Wednesday afternoon.

The issue of seasonal residents coming to Maine for its perceived qualities as a safe haven were highlighted in an extraordinary way this week when the select board of the island community of North Haven voted to ban visitors and seasonal residents to prevent the spread of coronavirus on the island. It has since rescinded the order, on the advice of the governor’s office. A new resolution, adopted Wednesday, strongly urged people to refrain from traveling to the island, including contractors.

In other communities, tensions between locals and out-of-staters were evident in snippy social media posts, where year-round residents complained about people from New York and Massachusetts buying up food and supplies from local stores and treating a health crisis like a snow day at the ski resort.

Those tensions are common in the summer, during the height of tourism season, but unusual in March, during mud season.

Rob Synder, president of the Island Institute, addressed the issue of the coronavirus and the islands in his Field Notes column circulated electronically Thursday, acknowledging North Haven’s concerns but warning of the negative effects.

“For seasonal residents who thought they were neighbors and friends, the move to close off the island may seem like distrust and animosity, and could have a long-term detrimental impact on the community’s social fabric. Many who care about the Maine coast, but live elsewhere, are asking if they are still considered a part of the communities they love,” he wrote.

In Carrabassett Valley, Town Manager Dave Cota welcomed seasonal residents back to Maine. Several contributed to a fund for Sugarloaf employees who lost their jobs when the ski resort closed for the season last Sunday because of the viral threat. “I’ve talked to three or four people at the town office who have indicated to us they are back here staying at their second homes at Sugarloaf, basically, to stay away from it all,” Cotta said. “And several have very generously contributed to the fund to help laid off Sugarloaf employees.”

Cotta lives near Redington, and during evening walks, he’s noticed more cars in driveways and more lights on in houses than usual. “These are not full-time folks, and this is not commonplace,” he said.

Steve Malcom, chief executive officer of the Knickerbocker Group of Boothbay, said his company’s property management division fielded requests from as many as a dozen out-of-state clients this week to open their seasonal homes. “The answer is yes, we have certainly seen that in the Boothbay region. We have been contacted by a number of folks who are coming north, who have said, ‘Please get our cottage cleaned and ready and stocked. We are coming north to ride it out,’ ” he said. “Not to be an alarmist, but without a doubt this is not something we typically would see.”

Many seasonal residents arrive in early spring, as early as April, Malcom said. But mid-March is very early. Some can’t turn on their water until May 1, because it’s carried though above-ground pipes. People opening up now have insulated homes and private wells with a reliable water supplies, an important consideration with the coronavirus because of the need for clean hands and careful personal hygiene.

Summer residents are coming early to Mount Desert Island, as well, and are calling ahead to hire plumbers to turn on the water.In the past five days, we’ve had requests from four people to turn on the water in five homes because they are coming up to escape,” Randy Sprague, owner of Randy Sprague Heating & Plumbing in Town Hill, told the Mount Desert Islander newspaper on Tuesday.

Malcom understands why people come north to Maine. “They collect the kids from college and come up to be here instead of a more urban area, where they might feel more susceptible to an infection,” he said.

He also understands the North Haven sentiment of wanting to protect local residents, especially in communities with a lot of older folks, who apparently are more susceptible to death from the disease than younger people.

Liz Brown, an English teacher from suburban Boston with a four-season second home in Sweden, was in Maine on personal business last Friday when she got word that her school had closed and would remain closed. She happened to be in a grocery store in Portland at the time, so she stocked up and made arrangements to stay in Sweden longer than she had planned.

“I’m not exactly fleeing the coronavirus, because I would be here anyway – because I love it here and would live here permanently if could. But it’s a nice place to be stranded while we sort things out,” said Brown, who didn’t want to identify her hometown.

As someone in an age bracket more susceptible to serious consequences from an infection, Brown, 61, said she feels empowered to be in Maine right now. A hiker and outdoorswoman, she is grateful for the opportunity to hike outside every day. It’s important to her mental and physical health during stressful times, she said, and being in Massachusetts now would add to her stress. “I was out today and saw a lot of folks my age feeling free, and it was blissful,” she said on Wednesday. “I need my exercise to stay calm and good. And if my gym is closed, I am not going to ramble around (the city) when I can be in the woods in Maine.”

That said, she has her eye on the calendar. She is due back in Massachusetts soon.

Snowbirds who are lucky enough are choosing to come home in mid-March with the threat of snow still very much in the air, just in case domestic travel is restricted and they can’t get home later.

“I am glad to be back, I really am,” said 78-year-old Frank McDermott of Raymond, who flew into Boston early Sunday morning from Phoenix. He spends his winters in Arizona, but decided to cut his time there short by about six weeks. Maine is home, he said. Being home and close to family during a stressful time is important. He had a safe and stress-free flight back to Maine accompanied by his cat, Frankie Blue Eyes.

“I am concerned like everyone else, and I am just going to hunker down here in Raymond and see what happens.”

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