ELLSWORTH — The number of cases of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maine has risen to 275, up 22 compared to Sunday, Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced at a briefing in Augusta on Monday morning.
“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. Three people in Maine have died from the virus, 41 people have been released from isolation and 6,088 people have tested negative.
The disease has been confirmed in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties. It has not yet been confirmed in Hancock County, but the CDC is investigating whether Penobscot County, which now has 12 reported cases, has community transmission of the virus, said Shah.
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. “That number may increase,” said Shah. Because there is community transmission in at least two of the most populous counties in the state, it’s hard to know where the health-care workers got the virus, he said, although the state is investigating.
“We haven’t seen clear evidence that any health-care worker has been infected in a facility,” he said, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
As of Monday, Maine had 176 intensive care beds, 92 of which are available, roughly 309 ventilators, of which 253 are available, said Shah. The state also has 87 “alternative ventilators” approved for use by the federal government.
The state has received two shipments of PPE from the National Strategic Stockpile and expects another Monday evening, said Shah.
But Maine officials have been told that the third shipment could be the last federal shipment of PPE the state receives “for some time,” said Shah.
The shipments Maine has received, said Shah, 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 reported. Studies have shown that people who are infected but aren’t showing symptoms may be able to spread the virus.
The CDC, per federal guidelines, reports cases in a patient’s state of residence, so a permanent resident of New York who has a summer home in Maine would be counted as a case in New York.
“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.”
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.”