What ‘Being Essential’ Really Means

Since its first diagnosis in Wuhan, China, in December of 2019, COVID-19 has spread across the globe. Many states in the U.S. are now taking steps to slow the spread of the virus. One such step has been closing any non-essential businesses. Maine Governor Janet Mills issued one such executive order on March 25, 2020, saying that non-essential businesses must close for a minimum of 14 days.

But what does that mean for the essential businesses? Mark Draper, executive director of Aroostook Waste Solutions, runs one such business. “Without the landfills open, public waste would have nowhere to go,” Draper said. He runs both the Tri-Community Landfill in Fort Fairfield and the Presque Isle Landfill. The next closest landfill is in Houlton, an hour south.

One of Draper’s worries is what would happen if his employees get sick. “We have 10 employees total between Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield. If we even lose two, we would have a hard time staying open,” Draper said. Draper went on to explain that before there were any state-required precautions, he had already implemented some changes to protect his staff. “The public remains in their cars when interacting with staff, and no one goes into our offices or scale houses,” Draper said. “We are also only allowing those with pre-paid permits to use the facilities. No new permits means no contact with money.”

The other problem Draper has had to face was determining the appropriate response if one of his employees did get the virus. “If one employee calls in sick with COVID-19 symptoms, does that mean the person he worked with the day before needs to go home? I don’t know,” Draper said. He explained that while most of his employees are healthy, there are a few in the ‘at-risk’ age bracket. “I just hope nothing happens. But then again, hope is not a strategy.”

Another essential business is A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital. Within the past several weeks, numerous changes have been made to departments across the facility. All non-emergent appointments have been canceled or rescheduled. Some departments have closed altogether. Visitation has been limited to only one pre-determined visitor per patient.

The Main Entrance of Northern Light A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital, one of only two entrances open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sherry Beaulieu is the manager of many different departments and services. One of them is the Spiritual Care Department. “Our chaplains used to do daily rounds with the patients and had meetings with family members. Now, they stay home and are on call for emergent needs,” Beaulieu said. “They call in daily to see if there are any special requests from patients or even the staff. We sometimes have more requests from staff members than patients. But now, we can’t provide the same level of comfort.”

Beaulieu explained that there are ideas she and her supervisors are working on to see if they can provide some type of support. “We are considering getting a computer and speaker system set up so that patients can have Zoom meetings with the chaplains. We are also planning on doing daily phone calls to the patient rooms if we can’t get that to work,” Beaulieu said. “As for the staff, the house chapel is large enough to have one-on-one appointments and still maintain appropriate distancing. That’s something we’re looking into, too,” Beaulieu said.

One thing that both Draper and Beaulieu expressed was the uncertainty of how long they are going to have to work like this. “The hospital are making changes that go to the end of May. But who knows if they’ll have to extend into June?” Beaulieu said. As for Draper, he said that he’ll find ways to stay open. “If too many employees need to stay home for quarantine, we’re prepared to close one of the landfills and have all waste brought to the other. We’ll figure it out.”