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Health officials on Wednesday confirmed another 24 cases of the new coronavirus spread across 10 Maine counties.
Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that the total number of cases statewide is now 142. That is up from 118 on Tuesday.
Among those recently confirmed to have caught the virus is an individual linked to a Maine Department of Health and Human Services office in Lewiston. Shah said that office was being closed as the Maine CDC’s investigation into the case continues.
“Our top priority is always to ensure the health and safety of the public as well as our employees within any unit of the state government,” Shah said via video conference from the Maine Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Augusta. Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, who joined Shah for the briefing, said more information about that case was expected to be released later on Wednesday.
A majority of the cases have been in Maine residents over age 50, while slightly more women than men have caught the coronavirus.
Shah did not immediately have information about the number of people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, but the Maine CDC reports that seven have recovered from the virus.
Another 3,177 Maine residents have tested negative for the coronavirus, up from 3,014 on Tuesday.
Shah noted that the Maine CDC continues to work through what he has called an “unacceptable” backlog of tests. He said Wednesday that his agency has received a shipment of much-needed chemicals for coronavirus testing.
He reiterated that the Maine CDC is working to acquire a new piece of equipment and to work with an outside laboratory to complete the tests in a more “expeditious manner.”
Wednesday’s increase in confirmed infections comes a day after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills took her strongest step yet to halt the virus’ spread, ordering most nonessential businesses to close for the next two weeks. In Portland, city officials ordered residents to stay at home for the next five days, making it the first municipality in the state to take such a step.
Shah cautioned that it could take weeks to learn when the coronavirus has peaked. But cases of infection are likely to continue to climb as the numbers in Maine are similar to those seen nationally only three weeks ago.
“I don’t think about it as much as if I were climbing a mountain, where I would know I’m at the top and could see the expanse. It’s a lot more like following a meandering path through the woods, and I don’t know where that path is going to end,” Shah said, noting that is not unique to the coronavirus but is common for other respiratory viruses.
So far, the coronavirus has hit hardest in Cumberland County, where 87 cases have been reported, according to the Maine CDC. Health officials have reported that there is evidence of “community transmission” in Cumberland County, but they have yet to see that elsewhere in the state. That is, however, not expected to last.
Other cases have been detected in Androscoggin (4), Kennebec (5), Knox (1), Lincoln (5), Oxford (6), Penobscot (4), Sagadahoc (4), Waldo (1) and York (23) counties. Information about where another two cases were reported wasn’t immediately available Wednesday.
Colby College administrators have confirmed that two students tested positive for the coronavirus, one of whom has recovered and another who remains under isolation. A fourth case of the coronavirus was confirmed at Bowdoin College in Brunswick late Tuesday, according to President Clayton Rose.
Shah again acknowledged that this is a stressful time for many people, particularly given the uncertainty of how long the coronavirus outbreak may last and as the economy grinds to a halt, leaving many people out of work. He reminded Maine residents that there are people out there to listen and help them.
“As a state right now, as a country right now, we need a lot of things … but probably above everything else right now, what we need is compassion and kindness,” Shah said.
As of Wednesday, the virus has sickened 53,453 people in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and caused 737 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease