May 28, 2020
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Navy reservist who was first in Maine to test positive for coronavirus traveled to Italy

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Janet Mills announces that one person has tested positive for coronavirus in Maine, during a news conference at the State House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is at right.

As of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that two Maine residents have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

The first Maine person to test positive for the new coronavirus that has infected more than 1,000 across the U.S. and killed more than two dozen in the country is a Navy reservist who traveled while on duty to Italy, where the virus is widespread.

The COVID-19 virus was detected in a woman in her 50s in Androscoggin County, Gov. Janet Mills announced at a Thursday news conference. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is now in communication with her and her medical provider, and she has been quarantined at home.

The Maine CDC received the woman’s presumptive positive test result around 11 a.m. Thursday, according to the agency’s director, Dr. Nirav Shah. A presumptive positive test means that a state test came back positive, but has not been confirmed by a federal lab.

“She is not hospitalized,” Shah said.

[Do you have questions about the coronavirus? Ask us here.]

Investigators from the Maine CDC are now working with the woman to determine where she has traveled and how much contact she has had with other people. Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said the Navy reservist had traveled on a mission to a country where the virus has spread.

The U.S. Navy released statements saying the Maine reservist traveled to Italy and that other people “the individual immediately identified having close contact with have been notified and are in self-isolation at their residence.”

The Sun Journal first reported that the woman is from Auburn and had recently traveled to Italy. She was picked up at the Portland Jetport last Friday by her friend, Michelle Roberts, who runs a Lewiston day care, the paper reported. Roberts has closed the day care while she is in quarantine until later this month, the paper reported.

“She started feeling like she had a cold,” Roberts told the Sun Journal. “You know, regular sniffling and of course, you’re coming back from a trip and you’re tired and whatever. Is jet lag and time change and all that good stuff? You’re thinking you’re just exhausted from travel.”

Roberts said she convinced her friend to get screened when the symptoms got worse. The woman came into Central Maine Medical Center’s emergency department in Lewiston on Tuesday and was tested, said Central Maine Healthcare spokeswoman Kate Carlisle. Central Maine Medical Center is part of the Central Maine Healthcare system.

“The patient had been in self-quarantine with respiratory symptoms,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said other patients have come through the emergency department with respiratory symptoms, but they were so low-risk they were not tested.

The state had tested a total of 86 people for the virus as of Thursday evening, including 65 whose samples came back negative and 20 whose results were still not available, according to the Maine CDC website.

With the confirmed arrival of the virus in Maine, it is likely that public and private entities around the state will take additional precautions to prevent the spread of a disease that has forced large universities to cancel classes, stranded whole cruise ships offshore and prompted President Donald Trump to restrict travel to the U.S. from 26 European countries for 30 days.

The University of Maine System, Bowdoin College in Brunswick and Colby College in Waterville have already instructed students not to return to campus after spring break and to prepare to complete their semesters remotely.

[Here’s what has been canceled or postponed in Maine due to coronavirus]

Since originating in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019, the coronavirus has spread to at least 115 countries, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,300 cases of the virus were reported in the U.S. as of Thursday morning, including at least 38 deaths related to it.

Maine was the last New England state to confirm a case of the virus. Ninety-five confirmed cases were reported in Massachusetts as of Wednesday. New Hampshire and Rhode Island had each reported 5, Connecticut had reported 3 and Vermont had reported 2, according to the Johns Hopkins. There was also one reported case in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

The Maine CDC ramped up its testing for the virus last week, after the U.S. CDC expanded how many Americans would be eligible to be screened under new criteria that let any patients with fevers, coughing and shortness of breath receive a test with their doctor’s permission.

The Maine CDC also started conducting its own tests for COVID-19 at the end of last week with testing kits provided by the U.S. CDC. Before last week, it had conducted just one test for COVID-19 that came back negative.

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.

BDN writers Lori Valigra and Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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