by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Executive Director Dr. Niravh Shah today announced 107 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine, an 18-case increase over the day before. Twelve people are currently hospitalized for the virus.
Maine has conducted 2,791 negative tests.
For comparison, Shah said there were 89 positive cases across the United States on March 1, and today there are 35,000.
“I offer this perspective to illustrate how a virus that spreads to two or three people from everyone who gets it can go from 89 to over 35,000 across the country,” said Shah, who clarified that he does not expect Maine to rise to 35,000 cases in 23 days.
Shah urged everyone across the state to live their daily lives as if they have the disease because the virus is likely everywhere.
“In any outbreak situation we are often just detecting the tip of the iceberg at any one time,” said Shah. “What we know right now is even if COVID-19 hasn’t been confirmed in your county, it’s likely there. If you wait until your county shows up on the board...I fear that you’ve waited too long.”
Asked about the possibility of Maine issuing a shelter-in-place order like those issued in other states, Shah said he has questions about the effectiveness of a measure like that in Maine, which has already issued some severe restrictions including the closure of restaurant dining rooms, a prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more, and the Governor’s urging of non-essential businesses to close their doors.
“We come to this discussion about stay-at-home orders in some cases in a different place than other states,” said Shah. “We have to recognize Maine’s epidemiological profile. Maine is not Manhattan.” Manhattan has a population of 1.6 million, living in a 23-square-mile area. Maine has a population of 1.3 million, living in a 35,000-square-mile area.
Asked if the state would take measures to handle an influx of out-of-state people moving into the state, Shah emphasized that the CDC’s recommendations remain the same whether addressing travelers from out-of-state or infected Mainers.
“At this time right now, there is no official recommendation from U.S. CDC [for people traveling from infected regions of the United States], but for those folks, I would urge them to do what I think everyone should be doing — if you’ve returned from a part of the country where there are known high levels of cases, and you’re not feeling well, stay inside.”
Currently, there are 71 available beds in Maine intensive care units.
Shah went into detail on the amount of protective gear coming into the state and said Maine CDC is also looking into the purchase of a machine that could alleviate one aspect of the test kit shortage. Because a chemical “reagent” is in short supply, this machine could perform the tests with a different, more-available chemical.
For the time being, Shah said the state is focusing its available test kits on at-risk populations, especially people already inside of hospitals where transmission could occur easily, and where healthcare professionals need to know whether to use precious protective gear.
Unlike influenza, which typically presents symptoms within five days of exposure, symptoms of COVID-19 can take up to 16 days to appear. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the primary symptoms, and the CDC warns patients who exhibit difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to rouse or bluish lips or face should seek emergency medical attention.
Shah urged anyone experiencing emotional distress to reach out to the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112, and anyone needing information on COVID-19 can call 211.