Joseph Miller, a custodian at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, uses a disinfectant-soaked towel to clean a kindergarten bathroom on Friday. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — City and school officials say they are prepared to respond to any cases of coronavirus.

“The city is in communication with the Maine (Center for Disease Control) and has been participating in their briefings,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a statement. “The state has a very knowledgeable team in place, and here in Portland we are fully prepared to follow Maine CDC guidance and ready to participate in any response as needed.”

As of March 9, according to the World Health Organization, there have been 109,577 confirmed cases across more than 100 countries, causing 3,809 deaths. There have been 423 cases in 35 states in the United States, resulting in 19 deaths.  Close to 60% of the cases have been in California and Washington. While two New Hampshire residents have tested positive as of March 9, Maine has had no confirmed cases. A dozen individuals in Maine have been tested, but all have come back negative.

The virus, first detected in Wuhan, China, in December, can be spread through the air, through close contact with someone such as touching or shaking hands and by touching something that has the virus on it. Symptoms, which manifest within two to 14 days after exposure, include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and in some cases a sore throat.

“The risk to the public remains low, but we must prepare for the potential spread of coronavirus,” said Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. “As we focus on the health of the public, we urge Maine people to take care of their personal health. Eat well, get plenty of sleep, and practice good hygiene. Healthy habits save lives.”

Municipal officials from across the region came together last week at a workshop hosted by the Greater Portland Council of Governments to look at steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, or COVID 19.

“Municipal officials are on the front lines and may be called upon to make important and potentially difficult decisions, such as whether to cancel a community event, or close or make other changes to community facility operations,” said Tony Plante, director of Municipal Collaboration at the council. “They hold positions of trust within their communities, have deep local knowledge, and are in the best to provide residents with accurate and reliable information.”

Plante said because municipal officials have contact with the public every day, cities and towns “must be prepared to take the necessary precautions to present the spread of the virus and protect the community and its workforce.”

The group discussed how to keep the public informed and reviewed emergency management plans. They also talked about ways to keep the virus out of municipal buildings, such as by encouraging the public to do municipal business online and increasing the disinfection of commonly touched items such as door handles and elevator buttons.

The Portland School System is taking a similar approach for its school facilities.

“Our hardworking custodians are doing daily cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched objects and surfaces. School nurses and administrators are working with the public health department and the Maine Center for Disease Control (Maine CDC) to keep updated on the situation,” Superintendent Xavier Botana wrote in a letter to parents.

The school district, like others in the state, is in close communication with the Maine Department of Education about ways to create plans for school closures, distance learning and other measures should the coronavirus turn into a local pandemic.

As of March 4, the federal CDC has advised individuals to not make any unnecessary travel to China, South Korea, Italy or Iran and to postpone travel to Japan, especially for the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions.

Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, said the potential of the coronavirus coming to Maine has not impacted travel to and from the jetport.

“At this time, we have no data that shows any operational impact to Portland, and anecdotally we haven’t seen anything yet,” Bradbury said.

The jetport has put new cleaning protocols in place, added 30 hand sanitizers in the concourse and has put up new posters with health information.

“They have increased their regular daily sanitizing per CDC requirements regarding cleaning horizontal surfaces, arm rests and things like that,” Bradbury said of ISS Facility Services, the airport’s custodial contractor.

Kate Foye, spokesperson for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said the coronavirus has so far not impacted the April-November schedule of stops by cruise ships in Portland.

“The first cruise ship is scheduled to arrive in Maine on April 25, more than a month and a half from today,” Foye said March 6. “To our knowledge, there has not been an adjustment to the schedules as of now. However, that does not preclude scheduling changes from occurring in the future. The Cruise Line International Association has implemented protocols for cruise ships and continues to update them.”

Foye said “as part of the Governor’s Coronavirus Response Team, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development is working closely with the Maine CDC, which has a full-time staff member working to prepare for the implications of COVID-19 on this year’s cruise ship season in Maine. These state agencies will work with the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. CDC to provide guidance if a cruise ship scheduled to land in Maine has a passenger with COVID-19.”

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