A full parking lot at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park in late June. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine’s top public health officials met with administrators from Bar Harbor’s hospital Tuesday and announced a partnership to respond to a potential COVID-19 threat on Mount Desert Island.

Physicians at Mount Desert Island Hospital believe at least 35 coronavirus-infected people from out of state have been on the island this summer and may have spread the disease in the community. The hospital sounded a public warning about the situation Friday and asked for assistance from state officials to trace the contacts the visitors may have had while in the area.

The individuals, whom the hospital described as “potential spreaders,” included people who had taken COVID-19 tests in their home states and then traveled to Downeast Maine before getting the results. They were essentially invisible to state and local authorities until they called the hospital seeking advice.

After a Tuesday meeting among MDI Hospital administrators, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, the hospital and state jointly announced a “collaborative pilot project to expand contact tracing to local individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 by residents of other states.”

The central feature of the agreement appears to be that the Maine CDC is giving the hospital staff access to the Sara Alert, a contact tracing tool provided to the agency and its counterparts in other states, to assist in the effort to trace these visitor’s contacts.

“This approach will allow hospital staff and, when appropriate, state epidemiologists to communicate with and monitor for symptoms among community members who might have been exposed to nonresidents with COVID-19,” the joint statement said.

The hospital had for weeks been trying to establish a partnership with the agency to trace these visitors’ contacts, and their top official expressed thanks for the quick action, which came a day after the Press Herald reported the scale of the problem.

“We commend Commissioner Lambrew, Dr. Shah and the state of Maine for their continued willingness to partner with us to address our region-specific COVID-19 challenges,” said MDI Hospital president and CEO Arthur J. Blank. “It is our hope that this pilot will not only help keep our community safe but also benefit others with similar seasonal populations and tourism-based economies.”

In the statement, Shah said the collaboration could “serve as an example for other tourist destinations in Maine.”

On Monday, Dr. Julius Krevans Jr., MDI Hospital’s chair of infection prevention described the situation as “a clear and present danger that should be addressed.”

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