As of 9:20 a.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that three 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.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine recorded its first positive test for the new coronavirus on Thursday amid a flurry of cancellations that upended daily life for much of the state.
On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills recommended the cancellation of events with more than 250 people, issued nonessential travel restrictions for state employees and announced emergency measures to force insurance companies to cover coronavirus tests. Meanwhile, more colleges moved to remote classes and extended spring breaks, and UMaine ended its sports season.
The rush of changes seemed to hit quickly in Maine, which had been one of only a few states to have avoided coronavirus so far.
“I don’t want to be dramatic,” said Courtney Sanders, who runs Daily Soup in downtown Belfast. “I’ve been afraid of coronavirus for weeks, but I feel that it just hit today.”
But state officials and public health experts are urging calm — and so-called “social distancing” — as the state prepares to address the deadly virus.
Peter Millard, an infectious disease epidemiologist and family physician at Seaport Community Health Center in Belfast, said Mainers should be prepared to change their lifestyles “at least until we have a better idea of where things are going.” Those changes, he said, should be avoiding crowds and maintaining especially good hygiene.
“To be cautious is a good idea, to panic is never a good idea,” Millard said.
Public health experts will be watching in the coming days to see whether the disease has spread — and, if so, how much. Initial cases of coronavirus were traced to international travel, but, in many parts of the country, the disease has progressed to a stage of community transmission, meaning some people who contracted the disease could not trace it back to travel or to contact with another person who was known to have the virus.
The Democratic governor said in a press conference Thursday that the existence of a single case in Maine — a Navy reservist in her 50s from Androscoggin County — gave the state a “unique window of opportunity to delay any outbreak like those we see in other states.”
Beyond Mills’ action mandating insurers cover coronavirus testing, policy reactions to the virus have been scant. The Maine AFL-CIO held a press conference on Thursday calling for guaranteed paid sick leave, among other things. That would require legislative action and Mills ruled out moving up the implementation date of a paid leave law enacted last year.
Mainers’ lives will be affected whether they contract the virus or not. The in-house doctor for the U.S. Congress earlier this week predicted between 70 and 150 million Americans could ultimately catch the coronavirus, NBC News reported Wednesday. But the outbreak is affecting many Mainers through mass cancellations, supply shortages, or interruptions to school or work.
Sandy Denbow, an innkeeper at the Charles Inn in Bangor, said the hotel has had “a lot of cancellations” from people who were traveling or attending events at the University of Maine, whose system canceled in-person classes after spring break. Denbow also said the inn is now looking for additional suppliers of toilet paper and cleaning supplies because of apparent shortages of those products that she thought are related to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’ve had a shortage of supplies, and we’re not the only ones,” Denbow said.
In Bar Harbor, Reel Pizza cinema owner Chris Vincenty feared that he would have to close his place due to lack of customers. He usually averages about 40 moviegoers a night at his place, but got only seven for four showings Wednesday night, he said.
Rob Babson of Portland, a guitarist and band leader, said his gigs are drying up, with one canceled Wednesday and two more Thursday. Babson said he and his bandmates are already out roughly $2,000 for the canceled gigs.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it in 30-plus years in the business,” Babson said. “It seems real to me because schools are preparing for the worst and events are being canceled locally and nationwide.”
BDN writers Troy Bennett, Charles Eichacker, Nick Sambides Jr. and Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease