About a dozen Mainers are being tested for coronavirus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, and the agency now has the equipment and kits needed to conduct its own tests, and will be able to do so in about a week.

Test samples from 12 Mainers who are showing symptoms have been sent to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab, Maine CDC said in a news release, with results expected in three to four days. About 1,500 people have been tested so far in the United States.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, would not say exactly how many Mainers are being tested because of how rapidly the numbers have been changing as more tests are conducted. Some of these patients have been hospitalized with symptoms, but Long would not say how many.

Maine has not yet had a confirmed case of coronavirus, but the Maine CDC said it anticipates it will need to test more individuals as the federal CDC expands its criteria for who should be tested.

For a time, testing was limited, in part because federal CDC guidelines said it should be focused on travelers who had been to mainland China or to patients who had been in close contact with infected people. Last week, the CDC changed its criteria, saying it’s also appropriate to test a patient if flu and other respiratory illnesses have been ruled out and no source of exposure has been identified, The Associated Press reported. Patients can now be tested if they have a doctor’s note saying they should be.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a House briefing Thursday that the federal government will have shipped enough tests by the end of the week for 75,000 people to be tested nationally, but Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday there are currently not enough test kits to meet demand, The Washington Post reported.


The U.S. CDC testing equipment and kits sent to Maine will allow state health workers to conduct 500 to 700 tests. Dr. Nirav Shah, the Maine CDC director, said in a phone interview Thursday that that number should be sufficient for now, but more kits can be ordered when they are available.

Meanwhile, the global public health crisis keeps worsening for a virus that the World Health Organization says is more contagious and more lethal than the flu. WHO pegged the coronavirus death rate at 3.4 percent, but estimates have varied. Influenza, by comparison, has a fatality rate of far less than 1 percent.

More than 98,000 coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide – most in China – and more than 3,300 people have died of the disease. The federal CDC has reported over 200 cases in 19 states and 12 deaths, with Washington state being particularly hard hit.

The Maine CDC recently acquired a $58,000 testing machine to help with the tests. Shah said Thursday that once Maine can conduct its own tests, results should be available in two days – possibly less in some cases – instead of the three to four days required to obtain test results from a federal CDC lab.

Tests consist of a nasal swab or throat swab that will be done at a doctor’s office or hospital, with the sample sent to the Maine CDC in Augusta. The kits will be used in tandem with the testing equipment to determine whether coronavirus is present in samples.

Gov. Janet Mills has convened a Coronavirus Response Team, headed by Shah, to prepare Maine for the coronavirus. Once cases on the West Coast proved the virus was spreading in the United States to people with no known contact to others who had been exposed to the virus, federal officials decided to expand testing, Shah said.


“We have been preparing for the novel coronavirus since mid-December,” Shah said. “We did not wait for the U.S. CDC to tell us to get working on it.”

Shah said despite the expanded testing criteria, not everyone at risk of coronavirus infection should be tested. For instance, if someone was possibly exposed to the virus but is showing no symptoms, testing would be counterproductive, he said. A person who has been exposed to the virus could test negative if the virus has not yet reproduced in that person’s system. Such a person could later show coronavirus symptoms, but believe they aren’t infected because the earlier test was negative.

“You want to test the right people at the right time,” Shah said.

However, more at-risk people are being asked to self-quarantine.

Before Thursday, the U.S. CDC did not recommend self-quarantine for people returning from countries affected by outbreaks if they showed no symptoms. The federal agency is now asking these travelers to self-quarantine even if they feel well.

“For individuals returning from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread (currently defined as those countries for which there is a Level 3 Travel Health Notice, i.e. China, Iran, Italy and South Korea), the guidance is that the individuals stay home for 14 days from the time they left the area and practice social distancing,” according to the U.S. CDC website.


Maine CDC will inform the public if positive tests are confirmed and will offer regular updates on testing recommendations,” the agency said in its news release. “The number of positive test results will be posted to Maine CDC’s coronavirus webpage. The number of requests for testing will increase as the COVID-19 situation continues to rapidly evolve globally and in the United States. Moving forward, tests will be conducted at both Maine CDC and U.S. CDC to facilitate prompt results.”

Shah said the roughly dozen Mainers being tested do not include 14 University of Maine System students who were recently recalled from international study programs in Italy. Italy is one of the countries that has experienced a widespread coronavirus outbreak.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the University of Maine System, said about half of the students have already returned to Maine, while the others are still making their way back.

“They have been instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days,” Demeritt said.

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