Story at a glance

  • A man in Maine reported a group of people with guns had cut down a tree and were preventing him from leaving his home.
  • Police said people believed the man and his roommates needed to be quarantined because they had moved to the area a month ago.
  • None of the men show symptoms of coronavirus, and police say they are investigating the incident.

With a population of 1,165 people at the last census, the small town of Vinalhaven doesn't often make national news. Located on an island off the coast of Maine, the town known for its lobster is now an example of the dangers of fear and misinformation during a pandemic. 

On March 27, a man went to leave his home on Cripple Creek Road after noticing his cable service was down. When he got to the end of his road, he found a tree blocking the end of it, but when he went to check it out, a neighbor started yelling at him. 

He went inside and called the police, reporting that several people with guns had cut down the tree and were telling him and his two roommates, who had moved to the island from out of state a month ago, they needed to stay quarantined. When police arrived, the group had dispersed, but officers said in a press release the tree appeared to have been cut down and dragged into the roadway to block it. 

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"We are concerned that some believe that anyone from out of the state is potentially infected [with COVID-19] and needs to be quarantined," the Knox County Sheriff's office said in a release. “We want to bring to the public's attention the matter of restricting a person's movements within the state. Whether someone is a Maine resident or not, they have the right to free movement and anyone who infringes upon that free movement is potentially violating the law.”

None of the three residents show symptoms of the coronavirus, and they are all outside the exposure window established by state officials. 

The incident reflects Americans’ fear of the coronavirus as well as the unique dangers posed to remote parts of the country. While the island has a 24/7 federally qualified health center, the clinic has no overnight beds or ventilators, and the nearest hospital is more than an hour away via ferry. In emergency situations, patients can be transported by fixed wing plane or rescue helicopter, if weather permits. 

In a release published by the Penobscot Bay Pilot, the city emphasized that this was an isolated incident, noting other ways in which the island's residents have shown support for their community members during the pandemic.

"Misinformation coupled with fear led to an unfortunate incident led by one or two people," the city said in the release. "Emotions are running high throughout the nation, but on Vinalhaven the response to the Covid-19 pandemic is, for most people, a thoughtful, rational approach to slowing its progress and caring for its people, with no tolerance for vigilante action."

Published on Mar 31, 2020