ELLSWORTH — As the number of coronavirus cases rises, state officials are urging Mainers not to panic.
“Panic is paralytic,” Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during his Tuesday morning briefing. “It can cloud your mind and prompt you to focus on things that right now are not priority.”
As of Wednesday morning, the number of cases in Maine had reached 42, with 30 of them confirmed by the state laboratory. The other 12 are presumptive positives, which are positive test results from other labs that must be confirmed by the state lab. An additional three cases involve people from out of state. Those cases will be counted among the numbers for the individuals’ states of residence. Another eight possible cases are under investigation in Maine.
Four of the affected people have been hospitalized as of Tuesday. One person has recovered.
More than half, or 23 cases, so far have been in Cumberland County, including a middle school-aged boy and a married couple who are residents of the OceanView at Falmouth retirement home.
There are three cases in Androscoggin County, including a boy younger than 10 years old. There are three cases in Lincoln County, one in Knox, one in Oxford, one in Kennebec, one in Penobscot and two in York. The average age of everyone infected is 50, with the oldest ones being in their 80s.
In two cases, the individuals have both coronavirus and the flu.
A total of 1,670 people in Maine tested negative for coronavirus as of Wednesday.
“We are continuing to see evidence of community transmission in and around Cumberland County,” Shah said Monday. “And, consistent with the trend we’ve seen in other parts of the Northeast and New England, we anticipate community transmission being detected across other counties in Maine in the near future.”
In addition to the positive and presumed positive cases, approximately 100 people have been quarantined on the advice of the Maine CDC.
“That number fluctuates very quickly, on an almost hour-by-hour basis,” he said Monday.
Additional people, especially health care workers, may be quarantined on the advice of their employers, for whom the Maine CDC provides guidance. Those employers are not required to report the numbers of quarantined employees to the CDC, however.
However, Shah emphasized people can act now to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the disease. Specifically, they should follow recommendations issued Sunday, March 15, by Governor Janet Mills.
“Social distancing is still the most effective strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Mills said.
To that end, she recommended that public schools end classroom instruction as soon as practical; that hospitals and health care providers postpone elective surgery and other non-urgent care; that long-term care providers prohibit visitors and access from nonessential personnel; and that certain social events be postponed until further notice. Specifically, she recommended canceling any events involving more than 50 people as well as those involving 10 or more people that include someone at higher risk, such as senior citizens.
She also signed a proclamation declaring a civil emergency in Maine, which “authorizes state officials to act quickly to delay and to mitigate a potential outbreak [of coronavirus] in Maine,” she said. “It also unlocks access to critical federal funds that will support our response efforts.”
That means the proclamation will allow Mills to take certain actions such as procuring supplies, mobilizing emergency management agencies and taking steps to protect the economy.
Shah also emphasized that people wash their hands not casually but rather with intensity.
“Wash your hands as if you have just sliced a bag of jalapeño peppers and now need to take out your contact lenses,” he said.
In order to protect health care professionals and first responders, the Maine CDC March 12 began distributing personal protective equipment that it had on hand, including approximately 5,795 masks, 1,000 face shields, 15,000 gloves and 6,300 disposable protective suits, which are worn when treating or testing someone with suspected coronavirus.
“Just today, in cooperation with the [Maine Department of Transportation], we are making deliveries to 60 facilities across the state. And we hope to continue that in the coming days,” Shah said Monday.
In addition, Shah said, the federal government has approved Maine’s request for equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile. Officials are anticipating delivery of additional gowns, face masks, face shields and gloves within a week. Equipment previously ordered from national suppliers is also expected to be delivered soon. On Tuesday, he urged the federal government to begin distributing this equipment quickly.
Maine is also anticipating delivery of equipment previously ordered from national suppliers.
“Things will get worse before they get better. But they will get better,” Mills said. The actions we take now, both as individuals and a state, are our best chance at mitigating a deadly coronavirus outbreak in our state.”