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A month ago, the new coronavirus was spreading throughout the country and Maine was bracing for its first case.
The day before Maine confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. President Donald Trump announced he was suspending air traffic between the U.S. and Europe. The University of Maine System and other Maine colleges prepared to send students home after spring break. Events throughout the state were being canceled or postponed.
A month after the first confirmed case, Maine was up to 616 confirmed cases and 19 deaths as of Saturday. The virus has drastically changed life and wreaked havoc on the Maine and U.S economies, prompting three straight weeks of record unemployment filings.
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Then versus now
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On March 10, Shah said the state had the capacity to conduct 100-200 sample specimen runs per day. “To date, the capacity at the Maine CDC laboratory far exceeds the demand that has occurred thus far in the state of Maine,” he said that day.
Watch: Gov. Janet Mills announces Maine’s first positive COVID-19 case
On March 12, Gov. Janet Mills announced the state’s first presumptive positive case, meaning the sample tested positive but still needed to be verified by a federal lab. A Navy reservist who traveled to Italy while on duty was the state’s first case and was cooperating with health officials. It was quickly followed by a flurry of cases at a Falmouth retirement community.
That same day, Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said “community transmission is a possibility in Maine” and something the state had been preparing for since December. The state recommended suspending indoor gatherings of 250 people or more, that people wash hands often and avoid shaking hands or giving hugs.
Watch: Nirav Shah on whether you should use fabric masks
A month later, nonessential businesses have closed, restaurants are shut to dine-in patrons and large gatherings have stopped as people have been social distancing throughout the state. The federal government has recommended people wear face coverings — most often in the form of fabric masks — when people do need to go outside their homes.
On Friday, one of Shah’s largest concerns was congregate care facilities, after Tall Pines retirement community in Belfast and the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation saw multiple cases in their facilities.
Watch: Maine CDC press conference, April 10
Within a month, the state went from its first case in Androscoggin County to all but one of its counties — Piscataquis — having documented cases of the virus.
As of April 10, Cumberland County remains hardest hit with 276 total cases and 11 deaths. York County now has 137 total cases and 2 deaths, while Penobscot County has 33 cases and zero deaths.
Cumberland, York and Penobscot counties all have confirmed community transmission, meaning they have at least 10 cases and at least 25 percent of those cases cannot be traced back to a known case or travel, meaning it’s being spread throughout the community. The University of Texas has found an outbreak of the virus is likely in all but three counties.
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The impact on the economy
Unemployment claims in Maine increased for three straight weeks after the coronavirus spread to Maine, and many companies had layoffs or were forced to temporarily close their doors due to stay-at-home orders throughout the state. From March 15 to April 2, more than 75,000 unemployment claims were made in Maine, and the state’s system for handling those requests is having a hard time keeping up.
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As gas prices fell throughout the state as fewer people were out driving, Bar Harbor canceled all cruise ship visits until July 1, Maine’s iconic seafood industry is struggling and even health care facilities throughout the state laid off or cut back on staffing. And economists painted a “dire” picture for Maine, which is in for a potentially long coronavirus recession.
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?