AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has outpaced most other states in testing people for the new coronavirus, but the state is still seeing a sharp increase in hospitalizations as it remains a week or more behind harder-hit states in fighting the spread of the virus.
As of Wednesday, there were 344 confirmed cases of the virus in Maine, with seven deaths, up from 142 cases and no deaths a week ago. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Wednesday that at least 8,400 people had tested negative for the virus in Maine, though his agency is not providing precise figures.
The U.S. has been criticized for being slower than other countries to adopt wide-scale testing. Maine could have had time to catch up relative to other states because it was one of the last states to record a case of the virus. At the same time, Maine’s hospitalization numbers have grown at an accelerating rate in recent days.
It suggests Maine had performed at least 6.5 coronavirus tests for every 1,000 people in the state, putting Maine in the top 10 in terms of tests completed per capita among states, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project. Nationally, the data suggest only 3.2 people out of every 1,000 have been tested for the virus.
The states with higher testing per capita generally fall into two categories. Some have seen the worst outbreaks of the disease, like New York and Washington. The others are states with smaller populations that were hit with the virus later, including Maine, Vermont and Alaska.
In Maine, the number of patients who have been hospitalized for coronavirus at some point jumped to 63 on Wednesday, up from 57 on Tuesday and just 15 a week ago. More patients have now been hospitalized in Maine than neighboring New Hampshire, which saw its first confirmed coronavirus case 10 days before Maine did and has seen 49 hospitalizations so far.
Shah said Maine appeared to be between seven and 10 days behind states such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts in confronting the virus. Those states have both continued to see case and hospitalization numbers climb, while Maine was one of the last states to confirm its first coronavirus case nearly three weeks ago
“Forty-one cases overnight, that is concerning to us,” Shah said Wednesday, referring to the increase in confirmed cases between Tuesday and Wednesday. “It is, however, consistent with what we’ve seen in other states when they were at the same point in their experience as we are in Maine right now.”
One question for researchers is whether additional confirmed cases reflect the spread of the virus or just increased detection. Hospitalizations indicate that the disease is continuing to spread, as cases of coronavirus that require a patient to be hospitalized are likely to be detected even at low testing levels, while some milder cases of the virus might not be.
Shah announced on Wednesday that Maine providers will receive 15 additional testing devices from Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based company that manufactures the machines in Scarborough. The device can return results in as little as five minutes.
That will allow the state to perform an additional 2,400 tests as part of a strategy to turn results around quicker and conserve protective equipment for workers treating patients awaiting results. That equipment is in short supply nationally, while Maine has only gotten roughly 20 percent of the N95 respirator masks that it has requested from a federal stockpile.
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