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More than 800 people with medical or public health backgrounds have volunteered their services since Maine began preparing for the novel coronavirus in January, especially in the weeks since the virus first appeared, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 200 people alone reached out in the 24 hours after Dr. Nirav Shah, the state’s CDC director, made a plea for help during a televised press conference Thursday, said spokesman Robert Long.
“If you are a medical professional in Maine who has knowledge and expertise in the operation of a ventilator, if you’re an anesthesiologist, a critical care physician, a pulmonologist, or a certified registered nurse anesthetist, please go to MaineResponds.org and register,” Shah implored.
Maine Responds, at maineresponds.org, is an existing program under the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that trains and coordinates a database of verified health care professionals for deployment in the event of an emergency, according to its website.
“I’m asking you, in this call to action, to join the team that may be needed in the event we see a high number of cases anywhere in Maine, particularly in rural areas,” Shah said Thursday.
Gov. Janet Mills reiterated his call for support at a press briefing the next day. By the end of the weekend, the state tallied about 300 new volunteers, Long said.
The recent surge has increased its ranks from approximately 1,400 in early January to around 2,200 as of Monday evening, Long said. Some of the people who reached out recently are still going through the registration process because of the sustained and “accelerating” interest in volunteering over the last two weeks, he said.
The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, officially appeared in Maine nearly three weeks ago, on March 12. As of Tuesday morning, confirmed cases have since risen to 303 and are expected to keep climbing. Five people with the virus have died.
The spike could strain the state’s resources to care for patients with the respiratory disease — its hospitals, equipment, and, as Shah noted, staff. That may be especially true for rural hospitals, he said, which “may have an anesthesiologist, a pulmonologist, a respiratory therapist who’s ready to go,” Shah said. “But if they become overwhelmed, they may need help.”
As of right now, the entire network of volunteers is on standby, Long said.
So far, they have contributed more than 50 hours of time helping in the distribution of personal protective equipment across the state, “and to a lesser extent, to supporting administrative tasks in maintaining this volunteer registry in a time of rapid and unprecedented growth,” Long said.
The state is also preparing to call upon volunteers with psychological first aid experience to support employees of the CDC, who have been working around the clock taking calls from the public and medical providers, he said.