Virology laboratory technicians of the Geneva University Hospitals test samples collected on persons suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus in the P4D Laboratory at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi | Keystone via AP

Initial test results show that no Mainers have tested positive for the coronavirus as of 1 p.m. Tuesday. For the latest coronavirus news, click here.

Twenty of the tests that Maine health officials have conducted for coronavirus have come back negative, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the state is still waiting on the results of another five tests that have also been done, according to the Maine CDC. The results were posted at 1 p.m. Tuesday on the Maine CDC’s website.

So far, no Mainer has tested positive for the virus, known as COVID-19.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said Tuesday there still remains a “possibility” that the virus is circulating in Maine, given that relatively few residents have been tested so far.

Hospitals and long-term care facilities have been advised to prepare for the possibility that it could be spreading undetected in a process known as community transmission, based on the cases of community transmission that have been documented in the Pacific Northwest, Shah said.

Those tested in Maine so far all were experiencing potential symptoms of coronavirus, and include a mix of people who had returned from a country with a significant outbreak or come into contact with an infected individual. The decision to test a patient for coronavirus is made by a medical provider, who can send a sample to the Maine CDC for testing, Shah said.

The current lack of confirmed cases has given the Maine CDC time to prepare as the state looks to help health care providers and long term care facilities prevent the kind of coronavirus outbreaks seen in other states, Shah said. The state was preparing for a potential outbreak by working with hospitals on disease protocols and considering potential equipment shortages.

In a statement to the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills said she was confident the state was “preparing as best as possible” for a potential outbreak.

“Because this is an evolving situation, we will remain in close contact with the U.S. CDC, continue our preparedness efforts, and stay in regular communication with our hospitals, schools, EMS, local communities, and others,” Mills said.

Medical providers have been advised to immediately isolate any patient suspected of having the coronavirus, Shah said. Maine CDC was also preparing for a scenario where the number of ill patients might exceed hospital capacity, and telling providers to consider postponing elective surgeries and taking other steps to increase the number of hospital beds available.

Shah said the CDC was also working with providers to take stock of medical supplies in case of potential shortages, which he identified as a serious concern.

“We are very, very concerned about this situation,” Shah said. “We have an entire team within the Maine CDC whose full time job it is to keep tabs on [personal protective equipment] and work with provider groups to make sure that those supplies are adequate. “

Maine ramped up its testing for the coronavirus last week after the federal government expanded the criteria for who could be tested for it and also supplied the Maine CDC with its own equipment to run the tests. Shah said his agency had seen a spike in calls about coronavirus in recent days, with 80 calls from medical providers over the weekend and 119 on Monday.

Maine is the only New England state that still doesn’t have a confirmed case of the new coronavirus which has sickened more than 750 people in the U.S. as of Tuesday, including at least 26 who have died, according to the New York Times.

The Maine CDC’s laboratory in Augusta can now perform tests for between 100 and 200 patients per day, Shah said. The facility only began testing for the virus over the weekend, while the state had previously relied on sending patients’ samples to a federal facility in Atlanta for testing.

The agency completed 10 of the 20 negative tests at its offices in Augusta, while the other 10 were completed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shah said. He said the agency will notify the public if there is a positive test.

Since originating in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, the virus has spread to at least 100 countries, the New York Times has reported.

According to the World Health Organization, as of Tuesday more than 113,000 cases had been reported worldwide and more than 4,000 people had died from the disease.

As with the common cold or influenza, COVID-19 spreads when an infected person coughs or exhales, emitting small droplets, according to the World Health Organization. People who have COVID-19 have shown flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The infection might also spread before people show symptoms, according to the CDC.

What questions do you have about the coronavirus and the effect it could have in Maine? Let us know in the form below.

[iframe url=”https://bangordailynews.typeform.com/to/fdNYxG” width=”600″ height=”500″]