The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that it is continuing its investigation of the coronavirus exposures of approximately 400 people from a COVID-19 positive referee who worked eight recreational hockey games in Maine and New Hampshire last weekend.

The agency said it is ramping up contact tracing to ensure that any people who were exposed and contract COVID-19 don’t infect others.

Also on Friday, Maine reported 32 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

The hockey referee investigation began Thursday afternoon and involves the agency’s contact tracers tracking down hundreds of people to inform them that they should quarantine for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said even if a person who was exposed to COVID-19 gets tested and the result is negative, they still must quarantine for two weeks because the exposure means they could still get infected during the two-week period.

“Individuals who were on the ice or potentially within close contact of the referee should quarantine for 14 days, monitor for symptoms, consult a medical provider if they experience symptoms and consider getting tested,” Long said in an email response to questions. “At present, no other cases have been epidemiologically linked to this individual, but investigations of potential links are ongoing.”

Long said due to patient privacy he could not disclose whether the referee was experiencing symptoms or was asymptomatic while working the games involving youth and adult teams.

The Maine CDC utilizes more than 100 contact tracers and has the capacity to carry out the task, Long said. The CDC also uses an automated system called Sara Alert to trace people and help them follow the rules. In the Sara Alert system, enrollees in the contact tracing program automatically receive daily symptom questionnaires by email, text message or other electronic means until their quarantine is completed.

New Hampshire officials also are involved because one of the games last Saturday was in Laconia, N.H.

Laura Montenegro, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said the Maine CDC is taking the lead on the investigation, but contact tracing for New Hampshire residents will be done by New Hampshire public health workers.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, sent a letter Friday to Mike Keaney, president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, reminding him that holding games between hockey teams indoors violates the state’s community sports guidelines. According to the guidelines, games between different teams must be outdoors to limit the spread of COVID-19. All of the eight games, in Biddeford, Yarmouth and Laconia, were indoors.

If the guidelines are not followed, “we will not hesitate to harden what had been strong recommendations into stringent requirements,” the letter said.

High school sports have been curtailed under an agreement the Maine Principals’ Association developed in concert with the Maine CDC and others, including canceling indoor volleyball games and switching football to a touch or flag 7-on-7 game. A decision on winter high school sports – which includes ice hockey – has not yet been made, but discussions are expected to get underway soon, state officials have said.

The new Maine cases reported Friday include six in York County – the site of many outbreaks in recent weeks – six in Kennebec County, five in Androscroggin County and three in Cumberland County. Twenty more people were listed as recovered on Friday, and there were 590 active cases in Maine.

A pedestrian walks up Alder Street in downtown Portland on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The death was a man in his 80s from Oxford County When subtracting probable cases reported in previous days that turned out to be negative, the net increase in COVID-19 cases was 27.

A total of seven people with the disease were being treated in Maine hospitals, including five in critical care beds.

Oxford County was moved from “yellow” into the “green” category Friday by the Maine Department of Education, which means schools are permitted to conduct more in-person learning, and high school sports practices and games can resume. York County remains in yellow and all other counties in Maine are in the green category.

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