As we begin the transition from summer to fall in Maine, LifeFlight remains busy on all fronts.
First, a huge thank you to all of our participants and contributors to the annual Islesboro Crossing (iX2020) which was transitioned from a large in-person gathering to a “virtual” physically distanced event this year. And was then further complicated by shark activity. It must be 2020. More than 275 participants, 23 teams, and our generous sponsors raised nearly $300,000 to support LifeFlight’s mission. More information can be found at the Islesboro Crossing Facebook page or www.islesborocrossing.org.
Also, a big thank you to the golfers, volunteers and sponsors who participated in our annual Emergency Care Open golf tournament which supports LifeFlight’s clinical education program. Both of these events show the power of community in challenging times. We were able to keep everyone safe, accomplish our goals while strengthening the connections between each other. Remember that social distancing is a matter of physical, not personal, separation.
With regard to COVID, Maine remains steady with challenges. There is continued progress in testing. Check this site for regularly updated information on the availability and sources of testing. LifeFlight, as always, is caring for critically ill and injured patients. We continue to see increasing rates of respiratory failure, sepsis, multi-organ failure and complications from cardiovascular events—heart attacks and strokes. All of these are correlated with potential COVID, and essentially, every patient we care for is treated as positive for infection. With a lot of experience gained over the past months we know that personal protective equipment (PPE) works, masks work, hand washing works, and constant vigilance is needed. To date we have had no staff incur an unprotected exposure requiring isolation or quarantine and, thankfully, no one has become ill.
Overall, Maine is rated at medium risk. Our positivity rate is less than 3%, our death rate near zero, and our hospitals have capacity. Our case rate, while relatively stable is on the increase and our RO transmission rate has been in the 1.0 to 1.2 range. To move to a declining rate of infection we need the rate to be less than 0.8. Social mobility, as measured by aggregate cell phone patterns, remains fairly static as compared to March. A good source of information, which we use for planning, is the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition.
As we have noted in our ongoing updates, the situation in Maine is stable but fragile. As the recent cluster and then outbreak in Millinocket illustrates, the challenges can increase quickly. The most significant potential threat remains fatigue from, and non-adherence to, universal masking. This, coupled with difficulties in maintaining social distancing, are the major risks for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.
The other new significant challenge we face is the reopening of schools. As with the rest of the country, and the world, despite all of the preparation work the safety of school reopening is a great unknown. Reopening the schools is critical for our children, high school and university students as well as the broader economy. Early results across the country are mixed at best and it will take the entirety of our collective efforts and vigilance to avoid another stay-at-home situation.
On the news front
We have previously shared updates about our new national demonstration helicopter flight route project with the Federal Aviation Administration. We expect to do flight testing on the first route linking Bangor and Bar Harbor in October, followed by a second route linking Bar Harbor to Portland. These initial routes establish the process and procedures for the FAA which we can then extend to all of Maine, and the FAA will extend nationally. This is one element of our larger aviation initiatives.
Looking to the future, we have just hired Maine native Kate O’Halloran as our new Executive Director for the LifeFlight Foundation. Kate brings significant experience in development and strategy for organizations across the state. She assumed leadership of the Foundation earlier this week, freeing up my time and bandwidth to manage our other growth initiatives.
Look for more detailed updates on our aviation initiatives and fundraising efforts in the fall issue of Dispatches.
As we have noted, COVID has been an incredible disruptor. While we in medicine have always had a pandemic in the back of our minds, as with all unpleasant surprises, it arrived on and maintains its own schedule. It is hard to believe the first case in Maine occurred less than six months ago. COVID has upended all of our lives and only collective effort and vigilance will keep it at bay until there are more effective treatments and a vaccine. As it is a coronavirus similar to the one that causes the common cold, there are a lot of unknowns in how SARS Co-V-2 (the official name of COVID-19) will continue to impact our lives and communities.
The biggest challenge for us all remains our personal actions. Fatigue from the new normal of masks is palpable and real. Maintaining social distance, keeping our family ‘bubbles’ small, limiting our travel and social interactions weigh heavily on all of us. If we are to safely keep our schools and the Maine economy open, we must never lose focus on working together to keep ourselves, our families, our colleagues, and everyone around us safe and healthy.
Remember to protect your family and keep your bubbles small.
Remember social distancing, especially when you are in groups of people, and especially inside.
Remember to wear your mask when you are outside your bubble, whether indoors or out.
Wash your hands.
Remember outside is good.
Remember we are all in this together. LifeFlight is there for you when needed.
Thank you for being there for us.
On behalf of the LifeFlight team,
Thomas Judge, Paramedic Executive Director
Norm Dinerman, MD, FACEP Medical Director