AUGUSTA — A Navy reservist from Androscoggin County who traveled internationally is the first person in the state to test positive for coronavirus, state and federal officials said Thursday.

The woman is in her 50s and is self-isolating while doctors and state medical officials try to learn more about how she contracted the coronavirus and whom she has had contact with. The result has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a process that takes several days based on reports from other states with confirmed cases.

“The Maine CDC is speaking with her and her medical provider to assess her travel history, and they’ve already begun investigating possible community exposure,” Gov. Janet Mills said during a State House news conference. “That woman is quarantined in her home. I know I join the people of Maine in wishing her a speedy recovery.”

MaineHealth, the parent of Maine Medical Center, said Thursday that its NorDx Laboratories in Scarborough has joined with the Maine CDC to boost the state’s the capability to conduct coronavirus tests, speeding up results and improving capacity. That development came the same day a federal infectious disease expert testified before Congress about what he said were ongoing problems with testing, calling it “a failing.

Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, offer updates about state efforts to test for and deal with the coronavirus, on Thursday in Augusta. The governor announced Maine’s first positive test for coronavirus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the initial test results from the state lab kickstarted the protocols his office has been preparing. The CDC will to follow the model of other states by releasing only the county where infected individuals live “to balance the public’s need to know with this patient’s need for privacy.” Shah said his department will release additional information about the person’s travels or whether there is a risk of broader transmission in the local community.

“As soon as that information has been procured with our … epidemiologist and verified by the individual, we will share it with everybody,” Shah said. He did not provide an anticipated timeline.


The presumptive-positive test is the first of a U.S. Navy reservist, said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Tisdale, a public affairs officer in Norfolk, Virginia.

The woman came through the emergency department of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday, a hospital spokesperson told the Sun Journal on Thursday.

“The patient had been in one of the countries where the outbreak has been widespread,” said Kate Carlisle, the hospital’s director of public relations. “Upon returning to Maine, the patient developed respiratory symptoms; flu-like symptoms. It was suggested to the patient that they get it checked out, so they called ahead to our emergency department.”

The patient had been self-quarantined before coming to the hospital and returned to that environment once she was through at the hospital.

The woman had been in Italy and returned to Maine at the Portland International Jetport last Friday, according to a friend who picked her up, the Sun Journal reported.

Michelle Roberts, who runs a daycare in Lewiston, told the newspaper that she has not exhibited any symptoms, but was advised by the CDC to quarantine at home until March 21. Roberts and her daughter made the decision to close their day care during the quarantine.


Roberts said that aside from her friend, none of the people she has had contact with after the airport trip required quarantine, mainly because Roberts hasn’t exhibited any symptoms of the virus. She said she is in regular contact with the CDC as her quarantine continues.

Roberts said her friend did not appear sick when she returned from her trip, although she was tired. In the days that followed, she started to feel worse and Roberts convinced her to contact her doctor and get screened.

Maine’s first presumptive-positive case of COVID-19 – the disease caused by this particular coronavirus – came amid growing concerns about the U.S. medical system’s ability to promptly perform tests and get results.

A federal official told Congress on Thursday that the government is failing to account for what could be thousands of additional infections because of ongoing problems with testing.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health. “That is a failing. It is a failing, let’s admit it.”

The Maine CDC is able to perform 1,000 novel coronavirus tests, said spokesman Robert Long, with in-state testing that started this week.


Dr. Dora Anne Mills, senior vice president of community health for MaineHealth, said the NorDx lab will able to conduct about 1,000 additional  tests.

“It’s about doubling the statewide capacity,” said Mills, the governor’s sister.

Maine Health said its testing also can decrease the time it currently takes to get results from within two days to less than five hours in some cases. Last week, when Maine had to send test samples to U.S. CDC laboratories, results would typically be returned within three to five days, sometimes longer.

“It is relieving a lot of pressure,” Dr. Mills said, explaining that if health care workers can get negative test results back quickly, they won’t go through as many protective medical supplies, such as masks and gowns, saving needed medical supplies.

She emphasized that prospective patients cannot show up at NorDx to get tested, and must talk to their primary care doctor to see if they meet the criteria to be tested.

Dr. Robert Carlson, NorDx laboratory medical director, said NorDx started running tests on Monday, and as of late Thursday afternoon had run about 30 tests – all negative.


The state’s first presumptive-positive case came a day after President Trump announced restrictions on travelers from Europe, along with plans to help individuals as well as companies affected by the global pandemic. Meanwhile, the economic and societal impacts of the virus continued to ripple across the country.

The stock market experienced additional declines on Thursday, the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons, and events were being canceled across the country. The University of Maine System and Bowdoin College were among the growing list of institutions sending students home from campus and transitioning to online-only classes.

Mills announced that the state is recommending – but not mandating – the cancellation or postponement of all nonessential indoor gatherings of 250 or more people for the next 30 days. While the governor stressed that she is not recommending that schools close, sporting events and other gatherings should be reconsidered. Additionally, all nonessential out-of-state travel for state employees has also been suspended.

Shah said the recommendation is consistent with the “social distancing” practices – such as avoiding shaking hands and maintaining a 6-foot distance from each other – that health professionals recommend all Americans practice in order to reduce the risk of broader spread in the community.

“Because COVID-19 spreads among individuals who are known to be in close contact with one another, suspending large gatherings is an important tool to limit the spread of that disease,” Shah said. “In addition, measures such as these limitations on large gatherings are the most effective when they are implemented before a community experiences widespread community transmission. That is the situation that we are in right now.”

Within hours of the announcement of the suspected infection, legislative leaders announced that they will end public tours and large gatherings at the State House as well as temporarily close the viewing galleries above both the House and Senate chamber floors. But the committees that conduct much of the work of the Legislature – and often draw the largest crowds into relatively small rooms – will continue to meet as lawmakers attempt to end the 2020 session by April 15 or earlier.


Mills also proclaimed an “insurance emergency” to improve access to health care and to allow the Maine Bureau of Insurance to require that private insurance companies cover coronavirus testing costs. At the same time, Mills announced the development of emergency rules to ensure that the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, will cover the costs of testing and treatment for COVID-19.

“Cost should not be an obstacle for anyone seeking a diagnosis or health care treatment for COVID-19,” Mills said.

There have been widespread reports of shortages of coronavirus test kits as well as delays and backlogs for obtaining results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, some public health officials have questioned why the federal government isn’t being more aggressive about testing for the virus, at least when compared to the responses of other countries that have been dealing with COVID-19 for longer.

Maine has tested a total of 86 people for the virus, 65 of whom tested negative with 20 test results still pending.

Asked whether the state should be more aggressive about testing, Shah said medical providers have broad discretion to request tests on individuals who are experiencing fever, severe coughing and other symptoms consistent with COVID-19. He said his agency has been encouraging doctors to “think COVID-19 when they see a patient” and to request testing when there is a possibility of coronavirus.

“There are no backlogs or anything of that sort,” Shah said. “Testing right now, according to the United States’ CDC’s guidelines, is the decision of the health care provider. Maine CDC does not stand between the health care provider and any patient.”


The World Health Organization reported 125,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,614 deaths in 118 countries as of Thursday. In the U.S., the federal CDC reported 1,215 confirmed cases and 36 deaths in 42 states plus the District of Columbia as of Thursday.

State and federal health officials encouraged people to practice good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently with soap for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer as well as disinfecting any surfaces that may harbor the virus. Individuals who are experiencing fever, a cough, difficulty breathing or a sore throat in some instances are encouraged to contact their health care provider and to self-isolate themselves from others.

For more information, go to The free helpline 211 Maine is also available to answer general questions about the virus.

Staff Writer Joseph Lawlor contributed to this report, which also contains material from The Associated Press.

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