Confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped sharply at Tall Pines Retirement and Healthcare Community in Belfast on Friday, as state health officials raised the case count to 22, up from 13 on Thursday. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it has tested all employees and residents and is conducting an investigation into the facility.

Meanwhile, the disease caused by the coronavirus claimed another life in Maine – raising the statewide death toll to 17 – while the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 586 on Friday, according to the latest figures from the Maine CDC.

Gov. Janet Mills, speaking at a briefing with the CDC, announced that she is considering an executive order to curb evictions during the pandemic and is working with the Maine State Housing Authority on a rental assistance program. The details of both are expected to be released next week.

“We are trying to carefully target the order to only those cases where someone is unable to pay the rent now,” Mills said.

Later in the day, Mills also signed an executive order changing the state’s primary election from June 9 to July 14, a move she had proposed earlier this week.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said that 19 of the COVID-19 cases at Tall Pines are residents, and the other three involve staff. He said state epidemiologists are working to determine how the outbreak was caused.

Based on outbreaks that have occurred in other areas, Shah said, the “two most likely causes are a visitor or an employee who brought it in.”

He said Tall Pines was “complying with all of the CDC’s recommendations” on protecting residents from the virus during a pandemic. CDC guidelines include extra cleaning and limiting visitation. Congregate living spaces are vulnerable to the virus’ spread, with people living in close quarters, and the elderly or those in poor health are especially vulnerable.

The CDC has shipped 72 hours worth of protective gear for health care workers to Tall Pines, with more on the way, Shah said. He also reported Friday that four coronavirus cases have been confirmed at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation. OceanView at Falmouth also has been hit hard, reporting its 11th case this week.

NEW CASES

Maine added 26 new confirmed coronavirus cases from Thursday to Friday, an increase of just shy of 5 percent. The Maine CDC reported that 111 people had been hospitalized at some point during their illness but that 246 individuals had recovered from COVID-19 and been released from isolation.

Mills and Shah pointed to some encouraging signs, such as Maine having the 34th lowest number of cases among the states and seventh highest number of recoveries, but both cautioned that it’s too soon to say whether Maine is limiting transmission enough to avoid overwhelming the state’s healthcare system.

“We are not safe right now to lift any of the restrictions that were imposed,” Mills said, referring to several executive orders since March that have closed schools, businesses, parks, lodging, tourist destinations and beaches.

Maine also saw its first significant, one-day drop in active cases on Friday – to 323 from 342 – a number arrived at by subtracting the deaths and recoveries from the total confirmed cases. Meanwhile, the number of people who have recovered has steadily grown, including a jump from 202 to 246 on Friday.

But Shah said there are not any conclusions that can be drawn yet from the trends.

“We can hope that these signs suggest we are in the process of flattening the curve,” Shah said. “But we don’t know. It is too early to tell.”

GLOBAL DEATHS SURPASS 100,000

The pandemic is taking a global toll, with worldwide deaths surpassing 100,000 Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide there were 1.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. In the United States, there were 461,437 cases and 16,478 deaths as of Friday.

Public health experts say the case counts underestimate the actual number of infected people because testing has been limited by a lack of supplies.

The epicenter of the disease in Maine continues to be Cumberland and York counties, which account for 413 of the 586 cases. Piscataquis remains the only county without a confirmed case.

The death reported Friday was a woman in her 80s from Sagadahoc County, Shah said. It was the first death reported in that county.

Shah said there are now 20 people statewide in hospital intensive care units and 37 hospitalized people who are not in intensive care. This is the first time the CDC has reported that data at its daily briefing. A Press Herald article this week had highlighted the lack of data on hospitalizations.

He said community transmission is also occurring now in Penobscot County, in addition to Cumberland and York counties.

Mills said she has asked the Maine National Guard to work with utility companies after Thursday night’s snowstorm, which cut power to 264,000 Mainers, and to prioritize power restoration to the state’s hospitals.

Shah also offered additional details Thursday from epidemiological research showing that household transmissions and the contacts with a traveling salesperson were among the factors driving the spread of the disease in Maine.

On Friday, the total number of intensive care unit beds in Maine stood at 307, with 153 available, according to the Maine CDC. The number of ventilators was 331, with 273 available plus 232 alternative ventilators.

Shah expressed optimism Thursday that the state would be able to obtain more tests soon, even though the CDC had received only 5 percent – 115 – of the 2,300 new rapid tests it expected to get from Abbott Laboratories, a Scarborough manufacturer. The rapid tests can give results within minutes instead of the typical 24-hour turnaround, which helps preserve protective gear used by hospital workers, such as masks, gowns, gloves and shoe coverings.

On Friday, Shah said that in addition to an order he placed for 1,150 Abbott tests from the U.S. CDC, the state is working with Martin’s Point Healthcare to share some of the Abbott tests that Martin’s Point had received. Martin’s Point, a primary care network based in Portland, had received 1,000 of the tests this week.

Shah said Martin’s Point had agreed to give the Maine CDC 115 additional Abbott tests, doubling the agency’s rapid tests from 115 to 230. Overall, Maine’s current testing capacity is about 3,500 tests.

The state has run more than 12,000 tests since March, the 13th most in the nation per capita, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Testing is a key component of being able to reopen society, but Mills and Shah said it’s unclear when that would occur.

Mills said the virus makes its own timeline, and that “everyone is tired and wondering how long this will last.”

She said Maine people should “stay the course, stay patient, stay courageous and compassionate.”

“What keeps me going is my faith in you, the people of Maine,” Mills said.

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