The Islesboro Health Center has begun a "sentinel testing program" for COVID-19 that Director Dorie Henning, FNP, said was intended to provide early warning of the presence of the virus on the island.

Starting July 28, screened volunteers were asked to come to a drive-through tent set up outside the health center for a nose-swab test for the coronavirus. Nurse Beth O'Mara said the center can test 80 people every two weeks, 40 per week. So far, there are about 50 volunteers, she said, with about 35 having been tested the first week. To date, the health center has had no positive tests.

In the event of a positive test, Henning said, health center staff who have been trained in contact tracing would get in touch with the person who tested positive to interview them about their other contacts. The center would also have help with contact tracing from the Maine Center for Disease Control.

Both Henning and O'Mara were quick to say the testing program was a collaborative effort involving the island's Crisis Team, Pen Bay Medical Center's Dr. Neil Yetman, one the health center's supervising physicians, the Pen Bay laboratory and MaineHealth's NorDx, Waldo County Emergency Management Agency and the Maine CDC.

After searching for test kits, the health center originally obtained a small supply from Pen Bay, Henning said, but later was able to get more from Waldo EMA. And when CDC stepped up to process the tests at no cost to the health center, it made the project "much more feasible and sustainable," she said. She added that so far the turnaround time on tests has been 48 hours or less.

Volunteers are asked to fill out a short questionnaire that asks about what type of work or volunteer activity they perform and how much contact they have with Islesboro residents who are not part of their own household. The idea is to find volunteers who have the potential to be exposed to the virus and to expose others, in order to increase the chance of finding the virus as soon as possible after it arrives on the island. Asking for volunteers, Henning said, was thought to be the best way to get a cross section of the island's population. O'Mara said she hoped to be able to include everyone who would like to be tested.

The program, which will run for at least six months, is supported by grants from the state's Keep Maine Healthy program, as well as by federal funds from the CARES Act passed earlier this year. To volunteer, apply online at or call O'Mara at 200-4116.