The only gas station and laundromat on Peaks Island have closed temporarily because an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The closure is the latest complications for Casco Bay islanders amid the pandemic, and a reminder that Maine’s island communities are not immune.

Lionel Plante Associates sent a letter to the community Sunday to announce the temporary closure, which began Monday afternoon. The business was notified Friday that an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The decision to close the gas station and laundromat for two week was made out of “an abundance of caution and concerns for staff and our community,” the business wrote in the letter.

“We know this will cause some hardship in our community, but we are hopeful that Portland’s Stay At Home Emergency Order and our state’s executive order will reduce your need for gasoline. We know this comes without warning, but these are unprecedented times,” the letter read.

Peaks is home to between 800 and 900 year-round residents and lies about three miles from mainland Portland. It has already seen ferry service cut back during the outbreak.

Danielle Mulkern, office manager of the family-owned business, said the employee who tested positive does not work directly with customers and the business is not concerned customers were exposed to the virus. The employee is self-isolating and additional information is not being released to protect privacy, she said.

Randy Schaeffer, chairman of the Peaks Island Council, praised the business for its response.

“I think they’re being very responsible to close down for a couple weeks,” he said. “They’ve gotten the word out and are allowing people to fill up their tanks (on Monday), which is very accommodating of them.”

Peaks Island’s lone gas station and laundromat – owned and operated by Lionel Plante Associates – announced Sunday that operations would close temporarily because a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The gas station was staffed by one employee until 3:30 pm. Monday to allow people to fill tanks. The laundromat was also open until 3:30 p.m. and now will remain closed for two weeks. The business asked that only one person enter the office at a time and that customers pay with credit cards if possible to maintain social distancing.

LPA staff had been doing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Mulkern said. Employees have been sanitizing the credit card pin pad and gas pump handles – there’s one for regular unleaded and one for diesel – after each customer.

Dean Kamp, a fifth-generation islander who owns a house painting business, filled his gas tank Monday afternoon. He said having the business mostly closed for two weeks will be hard, but he appreciates that it stayed open Monday to let islanders prepare.

“I think they’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Kamp said he and others are also grateful for the employees at Hannigan’s Island Market, the only grocery store on the island, for staying open and providing residents with access to supplies.

The gas station will reopen from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on April 4 and April 11 to allow residents to fill their tanks.

Keith Hults removes clothes from a dryer Monday at Peaks Island’s lone laundromat. The laundromat and the adjacent gas station closed after a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

With the laundromat closed, islander Keith Hults will have to make other arrangements to dry clothes for his wife, who works at Mercy Hospital. He has been going to the laundromat several times a week to dry her clothes with high heat to try to sanitize them. He said he has used Lionel Plante’s businesses – which include a marina – for years and supports their decision to close the gas station and laundromat because there are so many people in and out of the business.

“They’re part of the Peaks Island family and were reticent to do it, but it was a good decision on their part,” Hults said. “I don’t think they wanted to pull the rug out from anyone.”

Mulkern said the community has been very supportive, with residents posting messages wishing the employee well and encouraging other employees to stay safe.

“Please know that the gas pump and the laundromat were where our business was born. They have been operating continuously since 1962,” LPA staff wrote. “This is not a decision that we’ve taken lightly. We hope you stay home and stay healthy. We’ll see you as soon as we possibly can.”

Islanders are feeling other impacts related to the coronavius. The island’s taxi board extended the suspension of taxi service through April 12. And Casco Bay Lines announced last week that it has reduced the number of trips it makes between Portland and the islands.

The revised service schedule allows passengers to access ferry service during morning and afternoon peak-demand times, but there are fewer trips during the day.

Schaeffer, from the council, said the ferry service and barges are a critical lifeline to bring freight, medicine and other necessities to the island and to take sick patients to the mainland. He worries if too many crew members get sick, the ferry service could stop temporarily.

“We’re very concerned about maintaining the integrity of the two lifelines that we have,” he said.

Islanders are also increasingly concerned about day trips and seasonal visitors coming to the island despite the order to avoid non-essential travel and activities. The island’s population grows from less than 1,000 in the off season to more than 4,000 in the summer.

Schaeffer and other Peaks Island residents appealed directly to the Portland City Council on Monday night. They asked city officials to consider any extra precautions for the island in the city’s stay-at-home order.

The councilors extended the stay-at-home order until April 27. While they did not add any specific provisions for the islands, they did ban most short-term rentals during pandemic. One resident of Peaks Island spoke against that measure, saying that he did not plan to rent to visitors while the virus was a danger to the community. But another resident said not all owners could be trusted to do the same.

“As the weather gets better and people are getting stir crazy, the tourism across the state of Maine is going to increase,” resident Peter McLaughlin said. “I would say this is an opportunity to set an example for the whole state. … We have to do what is going to keep the most people safe.”

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report.

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