ELLSWORTH — Patients at Northern Light Blue Hill and Mount Desert Island hospitals have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I can confirm we have admitted a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19 at Blue Hill
Hospital yesterday,” said hospital spokeswoman Kelley Columber on Wednesday morning.
Columber declined to give any more information about the case, citing patient confidentiality.
On Wednesday, MDI Hospital announced a second confirmed case at its hospital. The most recent case involves a Hancock County resident who was tested outside the hospital’s Cooper Gilmore Health Center. That patient is now isolated at home.
Columber declined to say how many people the Blue Hill hospital has tested for the virus.
“At this time, we are not sharing how many tests we have run and suggest media follow up with CDC,” Columber said. “It is important to note that the numbers of people tested is not an actual depiction of what is truly out in our communities.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maine rose to 344 on Wednesday, Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced at a briefing in Augusta. The CDC reported one confirmed Hancock County case as of Wednesday morning.
A previous case initially reported in Hancock County turned out to be a resident of Penobscot County and was added to that county’s tally, per federal guidelines that cases be recorded in the state and county of a person’s permanent residence.
“That is a snapshot of a very fast-moving train — a train that is gaining acceleration as more and more commercial labs are running more and more tests,” Shah said at an earlier briefing. Seven people in Maine have died from the virus, 80 have been released from isolation and at least 8,400 people have tested negative.
The disease has been confirmed in 13 of Maine’s 16 counties. Community transmission has been confirmed in Cumberland and York counties, and although the CDC investigated possible community transmission in Penobscot County, Shah said Wednesday officials are “not satisfied” it is occurring anywhere other than in Cumberland and York.
In a separate call with reporters on Friday, Dr. Jim Jarvis of Northern Light Health urged residents to “remain vigilant,” even if the virus hasn’t been confirmed in their county.
“People are getting a false sense of security that this is not something they need to be worried about,” said Jarvis. “Nothing can be further from the truth from that. The only reason why our numbers are so low here in the state Maine is because we’re just not testing as many people. That’s simply because we don’t have the ability to do testing.”
Jarvis said that while Northern Light now has the ability to turn tests around in-house, the tests are being prioritized for those who are hospitalized, health-care workers, first responders and those living in shelters or long-term care facilities.
Jarvis said testing turnaround time for individuals other than those listed above is roughly nine days, which may effectively render the results clinically useless.
“You’ll probably recover from this disease before you’ll get that test result.” He urged those who have been tested not to call for results, which ties up phone lines.
“We’ll call you,” Jarvis said.
Being able to quickly turn the tests around for high-risk residents, said Jarvis, helps hospitals preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns and masks.
Shah said on Monday that “at least” 43 of the state’s positive cases are health-care workers, none of whom, to his knowledge, have been hospitalized. “That number may increase,” said Shah.
The CDC also reported this week that two people who spent time in a homeless shelter in Portland had tested positive.
Cases in shelters and among the homeless population have been particularly worrisome for state officials, since physical distancing requirements are very difficult to implement in such tight quarters. Keeping safe those who are experiencing homelessness is a “challenge,” said Governor Janet Mills at a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t have an easy answer for you right now.”
As of Wednesday, Maine had 272 intensive care beds, 124 of which are available, roughly 348 ventilators, of which 271 are available, said Shah.
The state has received three shipments of PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile, said Shah. The state is looking elsewhere for PPE, said Shah, because officials have been told that the third shipment will be the last federal shipment of PPE the state receives “for some time,” said Shah on Monday.
The shipments Maine has received, said Shah on Monday, have been “a paltry amount of PPE in comparison to what we’ve asked for.”
The PPE the state has gotten so far “may help alleviate some of the short-term needs that we know are out there,” said Shah, but, “It’s difficult to say whether it will be enough.”
Shah added that because there is no centralized procurement system for PPE, states are left to their own devices to find the vital protective gear, which can help prevent health-care workers from falling ill and further spreading the virus.
The lack of a “nationalized procurement system,” said Shah, “effectively leaves states pitting themselves against one another, which is almost the last thing you want in a situation like this.”
Jarvis said last week that he is particularly worried that residents coming from out of state may be spreading the virus without realizing it. State officials have repeatedly urged Mainers to act as though the virus is everywhere, even in counties where it hasn’t been confirmed.
And recent information shows that up to 25 percent of people infected with coronavirus may not have any symptoms but still be able to spread the virus, federal CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told National Public Radio (NPR) this week.
“That’s important, because now you have individuals that may not have any symptoms that can contribute to transmission, and we have learned that in fact they do contribute to transmission,” Redfield told NPR.
“I’ll tell you where my concern is,” said Jarvis. “The number of individuals who are not citizens of the state of Maine who may have a second home here or a family here who are moving from other parts of the country up to Maine because of our low reported numbers.”
Jarvis also emphasized that there are no medications or vaccines yet approved to treat the virus and that social distancing is the best preventive measure possible at the moment.
“We are reserving those medications,” said Jarvis, such as the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, for when “we have little or nothing else to offer.”
“Please do not be asking for those medications.”
The antiviral drug remdesivir also has received a lot of attention, in part because it has been shown to be effective against SARS and MERS, two diseases also caused by coronaviruses that are related to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, write officials at Harvard. The drug has been shown to be effective in protecting cells against infection from COVID-19 in laboratory dishes, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily work or be safe in humans, researchers caution. Two large randomized clinical trials using remdesivir to treat COVID-19 are currently underway in China, according to Harvard, with results expected this month or next.
Jarvis also said that while Northern Light officials appreciate the many offers they’ve had from residents to sew cloth masks for health-care workers, “At this time we do not feel they provide enough protection for those working with our patients directly.”
But keep sewing if you’re able, he added. “There may come a time that we do change our policy.”