Another 32 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed across 13 Maine counties.
Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday that there are now 376 coronavirus cases in the state. That’s up from 344 on Wednesday.
That includes 68 people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, while another 94 Maine residents have fully recovered from the virus, according to Shah.
No new deaths were reported after the state saw seven confirmed over the past week.
A majority of the cases have been in Maine residents over age 50, while they are evenly split between women and men.
Of those, Shah said 68 are health care workers, up from 43 earlier this week. Those include two doctors at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, a nurse at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and a provider at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.
Health care workers are among those most at risk because of their close contact with those already sick with the coronavirus and a shortage of protective equipment, according to The Lancet.
Shah said that the Maine CDC transferred just under 600 tests to a private laboratory, which is now processing them. That eliminates his agency’s backlog of tests, a goal of Shah’s. The Maine CDC’s highest priority for testing remains those who are most at risk of the coronavirus — those who have been hospitalized and health care workers.
Thursday’s increase comes just as a new stay-at-home order from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills took effect. It’s the strongest move yet from the state government to halt the spread of the coronavirus. That will remain in effect until at least April 30.
Asked whether that order will be needed after the end of April, Shah declined to speculate but stressed the need for Maine residents to maintain their distance from one another to avoid spreading the virus.
“Physical distancing is the best way to interrupt the virus’ natural transmission,” Shah said via videoconference from the Maine Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Augusta.
So far, the coronavirus has hit hardest in Cumberland County, where 204 cases have been confirmed. It is one of two counties — the other is York County, with 74 cases — where “community transmission” has been confirmed. Shah said his agency continues to investigate the possibility of community transmission in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Penobscot and Sagadahoc counties, each of which has 10 or more confirmed cases.
There are two criteria for establishing community transmission: at least 10 confirmed cases and that at least 25 percent of those are not connected to either known cases or travel. Shah said Wednesday that second condition has not yet been “satisfied” in those four counties.
Other cases have been detected in Franklin (3), Hancock (2), Knox (7), Lincoln (8), Oxford (9), Somerset (2) and Waldo (2) counties. Information about where another eight cases were detected was not immediately available Thursday morning.
Shah cautioned that Maine residents should be wary of incorrect and inaccurate information about the coronavirus and ways to protect themselves from it.
“We’re in a world right now where people are seeking answers. My colleagues and I in the scientific community are seeking answers as well. But those answers may not be as immediately available as we want them to be. … What we don’t want to happen is for fear and disinformation to spread more quickly than the virus,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the virus has sickened 213,144 people in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and caused 4,513 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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