April 06, 2020
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Janet Mills advises postponing gatherings after Maine sees first positive coronavirus test

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills speaks during the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce's Early Bird Breakfast in Bangor on Dec. 18, 2019.

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 Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday recommended postponing gatherings of more than 250 people for at least 30 days after announcing the state’s first presumptive positive test for the new coronavirus in a woman in Androscoggin County.

The Democratic governor said at a news conference that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was recommending the cancellation of “all non-essential large, indoor group gatherings” in a decision that will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks. Mills stressed that K-12 school cancellations are not being recommended at this time.

[Here are answers to questions from BDN readers about the new coronavirus]

She also announced that she was declaring an insurance emergency aimed at forcing private insurers to cover coronavirus testing and associated costs including doctor visits and copays. The largest insurers in the state are already doing that. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the department is also working with hospitals and clinics to ensure the under-insured and uninsured have access to testing.

The governor said the state has a “unique window” to delay a bigger outbreak and minimize exposure by practicing social distancing. Maine’s move follows similar ones in other states. Washington has banned gatherings of more than 250 people in certain counties while California has issued a statewide ban.

“I’ve taken this step not lightly, but with the hope that it will prevent the need for the sorts of mandates we’re seeing in other states,” Mills said, saying the goal is to delay an outbreak for as long as possible in order to reduce strain on the health care system.

Wariness of potential community spread is reaching into other elements of state government. Mills suspended all non-essential out-of-state travel by state employees for 30 days. The Legislature announced it would close viewing galleries and halt some public events on State House grounds including tours.

Mills said she is currently working on changes to her $127 million supplemental budget package to better equip the state to prepare for the virus to spread, but she declined to elaborate, saying she is talking about a “variety of scenarios” and discussing needs with lawmakers and advisers.

There were more than 1,200 U.S. cases of the new coronavirus as of Thursday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maine was among six states with no recorded cases of the virus until Mills announced the first presumptive positive test on Thursday in a woman in her 50s in Androscoggin County who is quarantined at home. A presumptive positive test means that a state test came back positive, but has not been confirmed by a federal lab.

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

Organizations have already been taking precautions in Maine. The NBA G League announced it would suspend its season today after the NBA announced it would do so after a player tested positive for the virus. Portland cancelled its St. Patrick’s Day parade and other events.

Colleges have also been taking action. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Colby College in Waterville and the University of Maine System have both said students will not be allowed to return to campus after spring break. They will transition to online classes.

More than 4,000 deaths have occurred worldwide as of Thursday, and the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic Wednesday, meaning the virus is causing sustained outbreaks in multiple regions of the world. President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on non-citizens from several countries in Europe, set to take place at midnight Friday.

Watch: What you need to know about handwashing during coronavirus

 


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