AUGUSTA — A man in his 80s from Cumberland became the first person in Maine known to have died who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Friday, shortly before a scheduled press conference.
“It’s a sad day,” said Governor Janet Mills, who joined CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah at the 11:30 a.m. briefing.
“This news will no doubt worry many people who hear it,” Mills continued, offering her condolences to the man’s family. “I cannot say we will not suffer more losses before this is over.”
Maine now has 168 total cases of coronavirus, said Shah on Friday, an increase of 13 compared to yesterday, with 30 people hospitalized. Twenty-four people have recovered from the virus and been released from isolation, said Shah. There have still been no cases reported in Hancock County, although the virus has been reported in 10 counties statewide, with community transmission in York and Cumberland, where many cases are concentrated.
Officials are working to determine how to distribute a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) that came in from the National Strategic Stockpile earlier in the week, said Shah, but he noted that “What we have received is still not sufficient.” Later, he compared the lack of protective equipment to having an umbrella in the midst of a hurricane.
Shah also updated the public on the number of available ventilators in the state (247 as of Friday, out of roughly 308) and said the federal government has relaxed rules around what types of ventilators can be used to treat patients with coronavirus, including, said Shah, ventilators “that might normally be used in an operating room.”
Both Shah and Mills addressed concerns about out-of-state residents coming to Maine to “flee” restrictions in their own states. Officials announced this week that many state parks and beaches would be closed to visitors. Acadia National Park also announced this week that all park roads, facilities and services would be closed to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“We’re very much concerned with people feeling as if they can flee the virus by coming to Maine or other states where the population is less dense,” said Mills. The state plans to erect signs at the turnpike entrance asking those who have come from “hotspots” such as New York or Massachusetts to self-quarantine for 14 days, said Mills, although, when pressed, she acknowledged that such a requirement would be difficult to enforce.
Dr. Shah, addressing questions regarding how cases are tallied, said the state is following federal guidelines that suggest officials record cases in a person’s state of residence, rather than where they are while being treated for the virus. That means, for instance, if a Maine resident currently in Florida caught coronavirus, he or she would be added to the total number of cases in Maine, not Florida.
“It’s mainly a bookkeeping exercise to make sure cases aren’t double-counted,” said Shah. He added that everyone should act as if the virus is in their neighborhood now, rather than waiting to have a confirmed case.
“Live your life as if you have it, life your life as if it’s here in your neighborhood and your community,” said Mills. “Because it’s just a matter of processing the test results.”