Today is Friday. There have now been 1,565 confirmed and likely cases of the new coronavirus across all of Maine’s counties since the outbreak began here in March, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Three more deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to 69. The latest deaths involved a man in his 60s from Penobscot County, a woman in her 90s from Cumberland County and a man in his 80s from Cumberland County, Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine CDC, told reporters on Thursday.
So far, 207 Mainers have been hospitalized at some point with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, while 958 people have fully recovered from the coronavirus, leaving 538 active and likely cases in the state. That’s up from 506 on Wednesday.
Here’s a roundup of the latest news about the coronavirus and its impact in Maine.
— The Maine CDC will provide an update on the coronavirus this afternoon. The BDN will livestream the briefing.
— On the same day that the state’s public health agency tested more than 200 residents and employees at a Skowhegan nursing home where one resident had tested positive for COVID-19, it refused to conduct a smaller number of tests for a nursing home in Kittery that also had a single confirmed case. The willingness to test residents and staff members at one facility and not another highlights an inconsistency with testing as the Maine CDC prepares to expand the state’s testing capacity later this month.
— There have been no new coronavirus cases for 15 days at the Augusta rehab facility that was the site of Maine’s largest coronavirus outbreak, making it the second nursing home in a week to reach what the state’s top public health official has called an “epidemiological milestone.” The Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation had recorded 48 cases among residents and 28 among staff since the outbreak began in early April. But as of Thursday, the facility had no active cases.
— Jobless claims fell slightly in Maine last week but remain well above those seen during the Great Recession as more newly eligible self-employed workers and independent contractors seek financial assistance during the economic downturn fueled by the coronavirus. Mainers submitted about 21,000 new jobless claims to the state for the week of May 3 to May 9, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Since March 15, Mainers have received more than $400 million in jobless benefits, compared with $77 million in all of 2019.
— Waldo County commissioners said Thursday they have furloughed three non-essential county employees ahead of possible revenue shortfalls. The affected employees work in the registry of deeds, probate court and in the facilities department, according to Commissioner Bill Shorey.
— Hotels and other lodging establishments in Maine can begin accepting reservations for June 1 or later for residents and out-of-staters who have completed a 14-day quarantine, the state announced Thursday. The state has not yet made changes to the 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers that has been criticized by the hospitality industry, though both Gov. Janet Mills and Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said they are looking for ways to adjust it in order to allow more tourism.
— Hannaford Supermarkets is hiring roughly 2,000 workers at stores throughout its five-state territory to handle increased demands put on it by the pandemic. The company did not specify how many of the new jobs will be in Maine, home to roughly one-third of the Scarborough-based supermarket chain’s 182 stores.
— A Portland City Council committee on Thursday fast-tracked a plan to close downtown streets to vehicle traffic beginning June 1, allowing restaurants and retailers to expand operations onto sidewalks and other outdoor spaces. The proposal reflected “pretty dire times for a lot of businesses” said Councilor Justin Costa, chair of the economic development committee. He said city officials were “trying to think outside of the box.”
— The city of Portland has canceled its Fourth of July fireworks celebration this year. City Manager Jon Jennings was forced to cancel the show because large social gatherings are not permitted and budget constraints preclude the city from covering the expense this year. That announcement follows the news earlier this week that Bangor’s Fourth of July festivities would be postponed until Labor Day weekend.
— Cats can spread the new coronavirus to other cats without any of them ever having symptoms, a lab experiment suggests. Scientists who led the work said it shows the need for more research into whether the virus can spread from people to cats to people again. But health experts have downplayed that possibility.
— The U.S. lacks a plan to produce and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available, said a government whistleblower who alleges he was ousted from a high-level scientific post after warning the Trump administration to prepare for the pandemic. The country needs a plan to establish a supply chain for producing tens of millions of doses of a vaccine, and then allocating and distributing it fairly, Rick Bright, a vaccine expert who led a biodefense agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Experience so far with an antiviral drug that has been found to benefit COVID-19 patients has not given him much distribution confidence, he said Hospital pharmacies have reported problems getting limited supplies.
— As of early Friday morning, the coronavirus has sickened 1,417,889 people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as caused 85,906 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.
— Elsewhere in New England, there have been 5,482 coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts, 3,219 in Connecticut, 468 in Rhode Island, 151 in New Hampshire and 53 in Vermont.