The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the situation around the coronavirus outbreak that has hit other parts of the country evolved rapidly in Maine over the the weekend as the state received more requests for testing of Mainers suspected of having the illness.

In a statement Sunday night, the agency said there are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in Maine.

But Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine CDC, said in an email that several requests for new tests were received over the weekend and results from some samples submitted last week came in as well. On Thursday, about 12 samples from Mainers suspected of having the virus were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing. Long would not say how many results came back from there and how many samples tested negative.

“The numbers change many times every day,” Long said. “At present, the important number is that Maine has zero confirmed or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19.”

Preliminary test results from Maine have been going to the Health and Environmental Lab in Augusta since Friday, according to Long. “If the results of a test done there were positive, the case would be labeled presumptive positive, and the sample would be sent to U.S. CDC for confirmation,” he said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, who was appointed director of the Maine CDC  last June, has said it is highly likely COVID-19 will occur in Maine. Shah said the risk of coronavirus in Maine is increasing daily.

“It’s highly likely that COVID-19 will occur here in Maine either from an individual returning from travel to an affected country or who picked it up from someone else,” Shah told News Center Maine (WCSH-TV/WLBZ-TV). He said his agency has been preparing for weeks. “It won’t be a surprise to us if we get a confirmed case in Maine.”

Shah said the disease has proved to be highly transmittable from person to person, especially if someone within close proximity to a person with the disease were to be coughed or sneezed upon. He urged Maine residents to stay informed and to practice good health habits. He also said there is some doubt whether a person can contract the disease by touching another person or surface.

“We’re in a situation right now where fear and misinformation can spread far more quickly than this virus,” Shah said in the interview with News Center Maine.

Last week, the Maine CDC announced that the U.S. CDC expanded the criteria that must be met before a person can be tested for COVID-19. Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

With new federal testing guidelines in place, the Maine CDC expanded testing to include more individuals exhibiting symptoms.

Long said the Maine CDC understands that the public interest in the disease remains high and he promised to release a public alert as soon as Maine has a confirmed or presumptive positive case of the virus. As of Sunday night, Maine was the only coronavirus-free state in New England.

Gov. Janet Mills and her administration have been carefully monitoring the situation in Maine. Mills said during a radio address Friday afternoon that the state has ramped up its response efforts to include rapid investigation of potential cases that could lead to having someone placed in isolation.

Mills urged people to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. She also asked that people avoid shaking hands as a greeting and to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with hands that have not been washed. The governor also asked that people stay home when sick and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. And she urged anyone who has recently traveled to Italy, South Korea, China or Iran to stay at home and avoid social contact for 14 days.

The coronavirus strain that was first reported in Wuhan, China, has swept the globe, sickening more than 109,000 people and killing at least 3,800.

“If you have symptoms, cough or fever, or shortness of breath, call the doctor’s office,” Mills said. “Do not go to the emergency room or to the local clinic, but call first.”

Bowdoin College in Brunswick posted a coronavirus update on its website Sunday. The college, which recessed for spring break on Saturday, said it is not permitting college-sponsored trips to states that have declared COVID-19 emergencies, such as New York, Florida and California.

Maine now appears to be the only state in New England not to have a confirmed case of coronavirus. The Vermont Department of Health announced on Saturday the state’s first presumptive positive test, and on Sunday the state of Connecticut said that a man in his 40s has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Sunday evening that the number of coronavirus cases there had increased to 28 from 13 on Saturday. Of that total, 27 are considered presumptive positive. Several of those people had attended a biotech company conference held at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston from Feb. 24-27.

Rhode Island reported last week that two people who had traveled to Europe on the same excursion had been diagnosed with COVID-19. On Friday the state confirmed a third case of a woman in her 60s who had direct, face-to-face contact with a person from New York diagnosed with the coronavirus. The woman is at home and exhibiting mild symptoms.

In New Hampshire, the number of confirmed cases has risen from two to four. The first confirmed case was an employee at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon who recently returned from Italy, where the outbreak had spread. Despite being told to self-isolate, the person attended an invitation only social event in neighboring White River Junction, Vermont.

One of the new patients from Maine’s neighboring state is an adult male from Grafton County, who came into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 at Hope Bible Fellowship in West Lebanon, according to a statement this weekend by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. The church has cancelled services and the state is urging anyone who attended a coffee social or worship service on March 1 to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread most commonly by respiratory droplets. Health officials are advising the public to stay home and avoid public places when sick, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash hands frequently, avoid being within 6 feet of a person who is sick, and to disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Staff Writer Rob Wolfe contributed to this report.

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