The mobile testing lab at the Maine CDC in Augusta. Photo courtesy Maine Department of Health and Human Services

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services opened a new mobile lab for COVID-19 testing in Augusta, which will quadruple the state’s testing capacity from 6,000 per week to more than 25,000.

The department also announced it was extending financial support for 27 “swab and send” testing sites across the state through at least Oct. 31, enabling the sites to continue to offer free testing.

Maine reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday but no additional deaths. Three cases were subtracted from previous daily reports – most likely due to probable cases becoming negative – so Thursday’s net gain in positive cases was 25.

Overall, 4,414 Mainers have fallen ill with COVID-19, with 132 deaths. Another 18 people were listed as recovered Thursday, bringing the total number who have recovered to 3,847. The total number of active cases was 435, four fewer than Wednesday.

Maine’s seven-day average number of new cases stood at 23.7, compared to a seven-day average of 24.3 cases for the week ending Aug. 20. Hospitalizations remained low, with a total of nine people hospitalized, including four in critical care and one on a ventilator.

The expanded testing capacity with the mobile lab is part of the state’s partnership with Idexx for additional test kits, personnel and the mobile lab. The Westbrook firm focuses on animal diagnostic testing but broadened its work after the pandemic set in to develop COVID-19 tests.

In early May, Gov. Janet Mills announced a $725,000 contract with the company that included new testing equipment and related materials.

“This is another significant step forward in our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Mills said in a written statement Thursday. “On behalf of the people of Maine, I applaud our staff at the State lab and thank Idexx for their continued partnership, which has made reliable testing more widely available across our state.”

The state also disclosed Thursday that it has suspended the health license of the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, which has been linked to at least 87 COVID-19 cases, including two other outbreaks, after hosting a wedding reception on Aug. 7. Of the 87 cases, 32 were primary cases – people who were at the reception. That’s roughly half of the 65 people who attended, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rest are considered secondary and tertiary cases. Outbreaks at the York County Jail in Alfred and a nursing home in Madison have been linked to the Millinocket reception, CDC officials said. One of those infected has died.

Also Thursday, Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories, which has a lab and manufacturing plants in Scarborough and Westbrook, announced a new $5, 15-minute antigen test that was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

Later in the day, the White House announced that the Trump administration plans to purchase 150 million of the Abbott tests for distribution across the country. President Trump was expected to highlight the purchase in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention.

Abbott plans to hire 1,200 employees in Westbrook to produce the test, called BinaxNOW. Production will start in September, ramping up to 50 million tests per month in October.

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