The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 24 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, as well as the state’s 10th known death from the pandemic.

That raises the total number of cases in Maine to 456, though public health officials say a shortage of tests for the disease means there are likely many more. Eighty-three patients have been hospitalized, and 140 have recovered, during the course of the outbreak in Maine.

The person whose death was reported Saturday was a man in his 70s who lived in York County, said Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine CDC.

“Times like this are hard,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said on Twitter Saturday, “and I ask everyone to take time to #takecare.”

Saturday marked a smaller daily increase in cases than Friday’s count of 56 – the largest since the virus was first confirmed in Maine, on March 12 – though public health officials have cautioned that daily statistics aren’t an accurate way of assessing the overall spread of an epidemic.

The Maine CDC also is no longer reporting numbers of negative tests, making it difficult to put into context the rising number of cases. Officials at the public health agency say the number of outside labs testing samples in Maine makes it too hard to compile that statistic.

Still, the daily increases in cases are “in line with our region,” Shah said on Friday.

 

As of Saturday morning, Piscataquis County was the only county in Maine to report no confirmed cases. Aroostook and Washington counties reported their first cases Friday.

There are now 231 cases in Cumberland County and 95 cases in York County, the hardest-hit regions. Health officials still have observed community transmission only in those two counties, though they said they were looking for evidence elsewhere.

Nevertheless, health authorities are urging Maine residents to take precautions as though the virus is already in their communities.

In addition to Cumberland and York counties, there were 20 cases in Androscoggin County as of Saturday, one in Aroostook, four in Franklin, two in Hancock, 21 in Kennebec, nine in Knox, eight in Lincoln, 11 in Oxford, 22 in Penobscot, 13 in Sagadahoc, three each in Somerset and Waldo, and one in Washington.

Cases were roughly equally distributed by gender – there were 230 males and 226 females. By age, 2.2 percent were under 20, with 9.4 percent in their 20s, 8.1 percent in their 30s, 16.2 percent in their 40s, 20 percent in their 50s, 21.7 percent in their 60s, 14 percent in their 70s, and 8.3 percent in their 80s.

Gov. Janet Mills issued new directives to combat the coronavirus this past week, including a statewide “stay-at-home” order and a requirement that anyone arriving in Maine self-quarantine for 14 days. Businesses providing temporary lodging – such as hotels – also must suspend operations as a means of discouraging out-of-state visits.

Mills said the order, set to last until at least April 30, was meant to prevent Maine’s health care system from “being overwhelmed.”

Isolated communities such as Chebeague Island are also battening down the hatches. The ferry serving Chebeague announced Thursday that it won’t transport anyone suspected of infection.

As part of her order, Mills eased access to public services that help Mainers feed their families, pay rent and meet other basic needs. All applications for Maine’s General Assistance program, which provides vouchers to pay for food and other goods and services, will be processed as emergency applications. People eligible for General Assistance will also be able to reapply after 60 days rather than 30.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services also will issue an emergency $11.5 million worth of benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in April, the governor’s office announced.

Finally, food benefits funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, will increase from $50 to $100 from March through July. DHHS will also allow the roughly 10,000 households relying on TANF to apply for emergency extensions to the 60-month lifetime limit for the program, and to reapply if they have already reached the limit.

Meanwhile, public health officials are asking the federal government for more supplies, especially personal protective equipment – or PPE – for medical workers, and are distributing the equipment they have to health care providers around the state.

Shah of the Maine CDC said Friday that his agency was working with the Maine Department of Transportation to distribute over 109,000 pieces PPE. That includes more than 8,400 N95 masks; over 40,000 surgical masks; nearly 2,000 disposable protective suits; 33,000 gloves; almost 16,000 face shields; and more than 10,000 surgical gowns.

Shah and other Maine health officials are gauging the need for PPE and other supplies by creating projections of what the outbreak might look like in coming weeks. They have declined to share those projections with the public, however.

The Maine CDC also tracks the state’s medical readiness in terms of intensive care unit beds and ventilators, the devices that help patients with aggressive cases to breathe. On Saturday, Maine had 299 total ICU beds and 139 were available; there were 324 ventilators, of which 272 were available.

Testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is key to containing the pandemic, but state health officials said they needed more supplies to keep up.

“The Maine CDC’s Health and Environmental Testing Lab has no backlog of testing samples and enough supplies to continue testing at a rate that meets current demand,” Long, the Maine CDC spokesman, said in an email Saturday.

He added that many outside labs are also testing samples, and that he was speaking specifically to the Maine CDC’s capabilities.

Help could be coming with a new test, designed and produced in Maine by Abbott Laboratories, that can give results in minutes, as opposed to hours or days with some others. After receiving approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Abbott, which is headquartered in Illinois, planned to start pumping out 50,000 tests a day at its plant in Scarborough.

As of Saturday morning the Maine CDC had yet to receive the Abbott Laboratories tests, so they don’t factor into the state lab’s capabilities, Long said.

Also on Friday, Mills and Maine’s congressional delegation called on the U.S. Department of Defense to take further steps to protect workers at Bath Iron Works after a second employee there tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

The shipyard is one of Maine’s largest employers and has been deemed essential by the federal government. It remains open, even though many employees chose to stay home after the first worker’s positive test on March 22.

As of Saturday afternoon, the novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, had caused nearly 1.2 million known cases around the world. More than 63,000 people have died.

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