AUGUSTA — Maine reported its first coronavirus death on Friday – a Cumberland County man in his 80s – as officials urged residents to brace for more while taking precautions to help avoid the health care crisis that is developing elsewhere.

“Things will get worse before they get better, but things will get better,” Gov. Janet Mills said Friday during a briefing with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “They will get better as we all do what we have to do now, and that means staying home.”

The Maine CDC announced the man’s death on a day when the statewide total of coronavirus cases rose to 168, an increase of 13 from the previous day. Maine reported its first case of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus on March 12. Officials declined to release additional details about the deceased patient, citing privacy laws.

Directing her comments to family or friends of the unidentified man, Mills added: “I know you are hurting. You are not alone. I don’t know you personally, but I hope you hear me when I say, ‘We are family and we stand by your side even as this pain is overwhelming.'”

The number of Mainers hospitalized from the COVID-19 disease appears to be increasing at an even faster rate than the total number of cases, doubling from 15 to 30 between Tuesday and Friday.

Additionally, the retirement and assisted-living community OceanView at Falmouth reported Friday that a seventh resident has tested positive for COVID-19 and was recuperating at home. Residents of OceanView have been sheltering at home for more than a week as the management attempts to contain the virus.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, speaks at Friday’s news briefing about COVID-19 in Augusta. Addressing the question of when the pandemic will end, he said, “The virus sets its own timetable.”  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said that 3,394 people statewide have tested negative for COVID-19 and 24 people have recovered and been released from isolation.

As infection and recovery numbers grow in Maine, state epidemiologists will be trying to learn more about those trends.

“In general, nationwide and worldwide, the recovery rate is quite robust,” Shah said. “I say that, recognizing that we are here on a sad day when an individual in Maine has passed, and so I fully recognize the grief that that entails.”

On Thursday, Johns Hopkins University announced that the United States had more COVID-19 cases than any other country – more even than China, where the disease was first reported, and Italy, where it has run rampant. By Friday, Johns Hopkins was reporting 94,238 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 1,438 deaths.

New York City has become the epicenter of the disease in the United States, accounting for more than 25,000 illnesses and 365 deaths.

There have been growing concerns among some Mainers about out-of-state residents – particularly those with second homes – leaving harder-hit areas to seek refuge in Maine. In response, Mills announced Friday that the Maine Turnpike Authority will begin posting messages on electronic sign boards along the state’s border directing people coming to Maine from areas with higher infection rates to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

Asked how that will be enforced, the governor responded, “We’ll see.”

“We are not pulling people over,” Mills said in response to reports that Rhode Island state troopers planned to stop drivers with New York license who enter the state. “We are advising them that they have to stay put.”

Turnpike authority Director Peter Mills said he was unsure Friday afternoon whether the messages were up yet, but that he told the governor – his sister – to have her staff personally contact the individual responsible for programming the signs.

The turnpike authority also posted the following message on Facebook, Twitter and broadcast it on its AM radio station: “Anyone entering Maine with COVID-19 exposure or from a region of high prevalence of COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days.”

Public health officials in Maine and across the country are scrambling to prepare for a surge in potential cases while urging residents to maintain social or physical distancing, practice good hygiene and stay at home, if possible.

“If anybody in Maine thinks that it can’t happen here, it is happening here and it will continue to happen here,” Mills said at the end of Friday’s briefing. “We cannot let our health systems be overwhelmed with the intensive care that many patients are going to require. We cannot let that happen. I beg you stay safe, pay attention, don’t take chances.”

Cumberland County accounts for 92 of the state’s 168 cases of COVID-19, followed by York County, with 33 cases. The Maine CDC has determined that “community transmission” – which occurs when at least 25 percent of new cases cannot be traced to a specific infected individual or travel to harder-hit areas – is happening in both counties.

COVID-19 cases have been documented in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties.

Cumberland and York are the only counties where the CDC has said community spread is occurring.

Nine other counties have case numbers in the single digits. Aroostook, Hancock, Washington, Piscataquis and Somerset counties have no confirmed cases.

Shah said the state needs more supplies and stocks of personal protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile. Maine has received two shipments from the stockpile, but that is not enough, he said.

Discussing critical health care equipment for treating serious cases of coronavirus, Shah said that statewide 86 of 164 intensive care beds are available, and 247 of 308 ventilators are available.

The state has received additional supplies of chemicals for testing, enough to test 3,000 patients, he said, but more will be needed as case numbers rise.

Addressing the question of when the pandemic will end, Shah said, “The virus sets its own timetable.” He said steps to disrupt the flow of the virus, such as social distancing, will be a critical factor. And he urged Mainers to stay connected and kind, even as they practice physical distancing.

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