AUGUSTA — Maine health officials reported 32 coronavirus cases in the state on Tuesday, with the number nearly doubling in one day as the virus spreads to more parts of Maine.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said 23 of those cases have been confirmed by the state lab while another nine are considered presumptive positive pending additional review. Although the majority of new cases involved adults in their 50s and 60s, one positive result is from a child under age 10 living in Androscoggin County.

Shah said the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus has now been found in seven of Maine’s 16 counties: Cumberland, York, Oxford, Lincoln, Knox, Androscoggin and Kennebec. Oxford, York and Kennebec counties all reported their first cases Tuesday.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have risen steadily in Maine since the first positive test was reported Thursday. A day later, the Maine CDC reported that the total cases statewide had risen to three, then to 12 on Sunday, 17 on Monday and 32 by Tuesday morning. There had been 1,303 negative test results as of Tuesday, the Maine CDC reported.

A part-time faculty member at the University of Southern Maine has tested positive for coronavirus, according to an announcement University System Chancellor Dannel Malloy made to the university community Tuesday afternoon. It wasn’t clear Tuesday night whether the faculty member was among the 32 cases confirmed by the Maine CDC.

Malloy said the faculty member does not maintain a presence on campus at USM, but did interact with nine graduate students working in a local school district. The university has been in touch with the CDC, the graduate students and the school district, and the faculty member is in isolation, Malloy said.

Nationwide, the number of coronavirus cases more than doubled – from roughly 600 to nearly 1,300 – between March 9 and March 11 and now exceeds 4,000 cases with 75 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, there were 184,976 confirmed cases and 7,529 deaths as of Tuesday, the World Health Organization reported.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, vice president of community health at the hospital and health care network MaineHealth, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that social distancing policies can help “flatten the curve” – particularly early on in an outbreak – to avoid the sharp increases in ill people that can overwhelm health care systems.

“This early phase, in which these strategies can work, is a narrow window because of the exponential growth and a short doubling time, especially when there is already community transmission, as is the case in Portland,” said Mills, who is a former director of the Maine CDC and the sister of Gov. Janet Mills.

While most younger and healthy individuals recover from COVID-19, the disease can prove life-threatening to the elderly and those with weakened immune systems or chronic health problems. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Since last week, schools, universities and businesses across Maine have shut down or postponed events – including all restaurant and bar service in Portland and Bangor for St. Patrick’s Day – in response to recommendations but not mandates from the Mills administration.

Cumberland County accounts for at least 18 of the 32 cases and probably more because the Maine CDC was still gathering geographic information for six of the newest cases. Cumberland is still the only county where there is evidence of “community transmission,” which is when individuals contract the virus from unknown sources in the community rather than from a known positive case or while traveling in virus hot-spots elsewhere.

Three of the people with COVID-19 in Maine are hospitalized while the rest are isolating at home

Shah said it is important that Mainers “manage expectations about what the future may hold” as the number of confirmed cases mounts.

“We will likely find additional counties where there is evidence of community transmission,” Shah said. “This is understandably concerning … and I understand that concern. My ask is that you take positive steps, as you can, to take control over the situation in your own lives, in your own households, with your own families. Panic is a paralytic. It can prevent you from doing the things that you need to do in order to be prepared.”

Those steps include: washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, maintaining a healthy diet and sleep regimen, practicing “social distancing” by avoiding gatherings and maintaining a 6-foot buffer between others, and ensuring family members have an adequate supply of prescription medications in the event of a quarantine.

One of the new cases is the child under age 10 from Androscoggin County. Shah declined to provide additional details about the second minor to test positive in Maine since this past weekend because of ongoing investigations and privacy concerns, but he said the child does not appear to have been in day care. Shah said his office is still looking into whether the child contracted the virus from a close personal contact.

He noted that while infections in young children are concerning, data from other countries that have been grappling with coronavirus for longer suggest that children typically experience less intense symptoms and illness from the virus than the elderly.

Hospitals across Maine are preparing for a surge in individuals seeking testing for COVID-19, as well as for hospitalizations due to the illness. Around the world and the U.S., 10 to 20 percent of cases have resulted in hospitalization and Shah said Maine’s early numbers – with three hospitalizations among 32 – are in line with that.

To date, Gov. Janet Mills has only issued recommendations to schools and businesses rather than the mandated closures that the governor would be empowered to order under the civil state of emergency declared Sunday. Both Shah and Mills said they have been pleased with the response to those recommendations to date.

However, some state government operations are scaling back as the virus spreads.

For instance, all Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices statewide closed Tuesday “until further notice.” Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he would work with state lawmakers to extend any vehicle registrations, driver’s licenses or other BMV-issued items that expire during the state of emergency.

State Treasurer Henry Beck also announced Tuesday that employees in the Office of the State Treasurer would begin working remotely. Staff will continue to process “essential services” such as cash management and revenue sharing payments to municipalities, but unclaimed property and property tax relief programs will function “at a limited capacity.”

“Our team is eager to return to work as soon as it is prudent,” Beck said in a statement. “Also, Maine people should know that the investments of state funds have not been materially impacted by recent market volatility. Our policy limits investments of taxpayer dollars to collateralized bank accounts, CDs, U.S. Treasuries. At my direction, we ended further investments in commercial paper some months ago. We do expect that earnings will lower but we have avoided losses of taxpayer funds.”

Mills, meanwhile, worked with Attorney General Aaron Frey to issue a 60-day proclamation prohibiting businesses from price-gouging on food, water, paper products, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, personal hygiene products, medicine and medical supplies. Violators could be prosecuted under Maine’s trade laws.

“The coronavirus is already making life difficult enough without bad actors trying to take advantage of Maine people by inflating prices for critical items,” Mills said in a statement. “With allegations of price-gouging in our state rising, this declaration gives the Office of the Attorney General full authority to investigate price gouging claims and take swift action to address them.”

 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: