by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Executive Director Dr. Niravh Shah today held a press conference to discuss coronavirus and announced 89 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine, a 19-case increase over the day before. Eight of those patients are hospitalized. Yesterday the CDC announced three patients have also recovered.
No cases have been confirmed within Washington County, something Shah said should not stop residents from taking serious steps to prepare and protect themselves. "[A lack of cases] could provide folks with a false sense of security," he said.
“What we know about outbreaks is we’re often detecting the tip of the iceberg, there may already be cases in those counties [where no cases are yet confirmed],” said Shah. “No one should be waiting until they see cases in their county, or using even a certain number of cases in their county, as a calibration point for when to begin taking preparatory action.” Maine will update its testing numbers on Monday, March 23.
Shah said there is now evidence of community transmission within Cumberland County, which remains the hardest hit with 53 total cases. He warned that the state expects to see further cases in new counties, and increasing rates in counties with known cases.
When asked if the state would take measures to handle an influx of out-of-state people moving into the state, Shah emphasized that the CDC’s recommendations remain the same whether addressing people from out of state or infected Mainers.
"What we know is that the physical distancing is really the key, irrespective of where someone’s license plate may...hail from,” said Shah, who also advised people to prepare with a supply of medicines for at-risk people in their households.
In addition to rigorous handwashing, Shah recommended social distancing but said he thinks of it more as physical distancing, where people stand greater than six feet apart.
“Practice distancing, but practice social closeness and connectedness,” said Shah. “I think we’re about to embark on this experiment in different ways to keep in touch with people. Some of those ways we’ve done for a long time, like talking on the phone and writing letters, others might involve...virtual cocktail hours, or virtual dinner parties, where folks are connected via their devices in their own homes, but sharing a meal together, playing a game together.”
Unlike influenza, which typically presents symptoms within five days of exposure, symptoms of COVID-19 can take up to 16 days to appear. Fever, cough, and shortness of breath are the primary symptoms, and the CDC warns patients who exhibit difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to rouse or bluish lips or face should seek emergency medical attention.
In an email, CDC Communications Director Robert Long said that in terms of limiting the spread of the virus, knowing where COVID-positive patients are now is not as important as knowing where they have been. As soon as a patient tests positive, they move into a setting designed to limit community spread, whether that's home isolation or a hospital.
"Our epidemiology staff is working around the clock with patients to trace their past movements for potential exposure," wrote Long.
Even before Governor Janet Mills ordered the closure of all restaurant dining rooms last week, many local restaurants had turned to takeout-only as a way of limiting viral spread. All area schools are closed to classroom instruction, and area students are working on packets sent home by their teachers, sometimes checking in via Google Classroom or email. Local schools have all made arrangements to provide meals to students who need them, either via campus pickup or home delivery.
The state has also prohibited all gatherings of 10 or more people.
Statewide, Hannaford supermarkets have implemented new hours to better handle the surge in demand and foot traffic caused by the pandemic. Effective Saturday, March 21, most stores will now be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with a few closing at 8 p.m. on certain days. Hannaford is also offering special shopping hours for customers over 60 years of age, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week.
All municipal offices have closed to foot traffic and suggest residents phone or email for assistance.
All of Maine's most current coronavirus information is updated daily here https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/airborne/coronavirus.shtml.