ELLSWORTH — Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Nirav Shah had a message for those in rural Maine this week: Don’t get complacent because of the low number of confirmed cases in your area.
“We are still very much in the middle of this, and what I hope doesn’t happen is that we see a secondary bump in cases in rural parts of the state,” said Shah, particularly because “health-care providers may not have the same degree of resources” as those in more densely populated urban areas.
The number of cases statewide had risen to 888 as of early Wednesday morning, 409 of which are active. The 888 figure includes 443 residents who have recovered as well as 36 who have passed away. As of Wednesday morning, 40 residents who had tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized, 16 were in critical care and eight were on ventilators; 139 residents had been hospitalized at some point during their illness.
For rural Mainers, “It’s just as important for you to lead your life as if the virus was circulating around you,” Shah advised. Cases in rural areas around the country have started to tick up in recent weeks, he added. “I am deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on rural parts of Maine.”
Hancock County had recorded six confirmed cases of coronavirus this week, including two residents who have recovered and one who is hospitalized, according to the Maine CDC. Included in those numbers are two county residents who tested positive at Mount Desert Island Hospital, which also reported an additional two cases in non-county residents. Northern Light, which operates hospitals around the state, including in Ellsworth and Blue Hill, is not reporting case counts at individual hospitals.
Following federal guidelines, cases are reported in a patient’s county and state of residence, meaning a Mainer who tests positive while in Florida will be counted in Maine, not in Florida. There has been great concern among residents that visitors or those coming to summer homes from hotspots such as New York and New Jersey might bring the virus with them, potentially straining already scarce health-care resources.
In an email this week, Communications Director Robert Long said the CDC has 37 “investigations” that have been “transferred to other states,” and 22 cases reported to Maine by other state health departments.
But Long cautioned that “That doesn’t necessarily mean they tested positive when they were out of state — just that their lab was reported to another state before it was reported to us (Maine residents being testing in New Hampshire is a good example of this).”
He added that the 37 investigations transferred to other states, “Again does not mean that they tested positive while in Maine, or even that they were ever in Maine. Some of them are New Hampshire residents whose tests were sent to Maine laboratories rather than New Hampshire laboratories. Some of them were cases sent to us but shouldn’t have been (i.e., students who are in another state more than nine months of the year but listed their parents’ address for billing purposes).”
Dr. James Jarvis, part of the incident command team for Northern Light Health, said there are nine patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 being treated across the system. Northern Light Laboratory in Bangor had conducted 3,081 tests as of Friday, April 17, of which 90 had come back positive. Swabs can be collected at any facility, said Jarvis. Most testing is done in-house. The lab is still prioritizing testing for “Tier 1” individuals, including hospital in-patients, those living in congregate living situations and health-care workers.
The 90 positive tests, said Jarvis, “is a relatively small number, but it just shows that we are doing the right thing within our community, that our social distancing, our handwashing and other efforts are doing well to keep the spread low.”