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Maine public health officials have sent a machine to Bangor that provides rapid test results for the novel coronavirus in an effort to prevent an outbreak after someone who stayed at a city homeless shelter tested positive for COVID-19.
After learning of the case, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention sent the Abbott Lab oratories testing equipment — consisting of a processing device and a kit that can test 23 patients at a time, providing results in under 15 minutes — to Penobscot Community Health Care, which oversees the shelter, according to Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long.
The device arrived Tuesday, said Dan Cashman, a shelter spokesman. More are expected over the next two days, Long said.
Its deployment will help local officials quickly identify anyone who may have contracted the virus from the person who spent a night at the Hope House shelter on Corporate Drive, allowing them to contain the spread and hopefully prevent a wider outbreak.
“Congregate settings, such as shelters where people experiencing homelessness reside, are a top concern for us,” Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said at a press briefing Tuesday.
“[Within] the close settings that those folks live in, there’s a high degree of probability of transmission,” he said, meaning health officials must rapidly identify the path of the virus to stop it as soon as possible. He also announced that the state is now double-checking negative results in light of evidence that the rapid-results kits vary in accuracy.
The Hope House learned that one of its guests tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. The news marked the first and, so far, only reported case of the virus among a member of the city’s vulnerable homeless population. It came as local officials continue to search for a temporary shelter to quarantine people who test positive.
Without a designated space, the shelter moved the person to a local hotel, said Cashman, with the Hope House.
It then began working with the Maine CDC to trace the infected individual’s previous contacts and determine the other guests or staff members who may have been exposed.
Before the state could send the Abbott device to Penobscot Community Health Care, it first had to make sure the organization had scheduled a training for its staff to use the equipment, Long said.
Right now, only those who had “close contact” with the infected shelter guest will be tested, Long said. Maine and the rest of the country have had to ration and prioritize testing for the virus amid a nationwide shortage. Maine only received 5 percent of the Abbott test kits the state was told it would be allotted, according to Long.
However, that policy could change if officials learn that three or more people associated with the Hope House have contracted the virus, which would be considered an outbreak.
In that scenario, the Maine CDC would offer tests to all guests and staff, as has happened with other congregant living settings that have seen outbreaks in Maine, Long said.
Watch: Nirav Shah on tracing the origins of coronavirus cases in Maine