Another death from coronavirus was reported in Maine Thursday afternoon, as the number of confirmed cases grew to 376 on the day a statewide stay-at-home order took effect, and as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it is preparing to open triage sites to relieve hospitals.

The Maine CDC did not report any new deaths at a media briefing Thursday morning, but the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta announced later Thursday the death of a patient there, a veteran in their 70s. It was the eighth death from the virus in Maine.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the veteran’s family and friends during this difficult time,” Tracye B. Davis, director of the VA Maine Healthcare System, said in a written statement.

The 376 confirmed cases represent an increase of 32 cases from Wednesday. Ninety-four people have recovered and 68 have been hospitalized at some point, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at the briefing.

Shah did not offer specific numbers Wednesday when asked whether the state has projections for how many cases could arise in Maine or how many people could die. More than 187,000 cases of the virus and 3,800 deaths have been reported in the United States, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Shah said the state is engaged in modeling, but it is “less about generating a number and more about making sure we have the necessary assets to match whatever that number might be.”

For example, Shah said the Maine CDC realized from the modeling that an initial request for ventilators from the federal government was not large enough, so the state upped the request from 300 to 400.

“We’re urging the federal government to fulfill that request to make sure that if one of the worst-case scenarios were to materialize, we have as much support as we can here in Maine,” Shah said.

Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine CDC, said later Thursday that he did not have specific numbers he could share about how many coronavirus cases or deaths could arise under some of the different scenarios the state has modeled.

“As Dr. Shah stated today, that kind of public speculation does not align with best practices for a public health agency in the middle of a response to a pandemic,” Long said in an email.


An additional death was reported Thursday by the Togus VA Medical Center, bringing Maine’s total to eight.

Shah also announced Thursday that the CDC is working with other state agencies to prepare for a possible surge in patients and how relief could be provided to hospitals.

Some states, like New York and Massachusetts, have announced they plan to or have already set up temporary hospitals to treat coronavirus patients or absorb patients with other conditions to free up hospital beds for those who are infected. The Navy also has deployed hospital ships in both New York City and Los Angeles.

Shah said Maine could either set up triage sites where individuals who may have symptoms of COVID-19 could go for an initial evaluation, or develop a more full-scale “external hospital,” likely in a state building that is not currently in use.

“Both sets of plans are underway and what we’re looking for are signs we might need to deploy one or the other,” Shah said. “Right now we’re preparing for the former, to be ready to stand up an external triage site very soon.”

No final decisions have been made on a location or staffing, but Shah said sites would be in areas of high need and that the state is hoping to work details out over the next week and a half.

Meanwhile, just under 600 coronavirus test samples were shipped to the private testing lab LabCorp on Wednesday, and the Maine CDC currently has no testing backlog while it waits for results of the tests.

Maine also has placed an order for 300,000 N95 medical masks with an in-state vendor and is preparing to distribute personal protective equipment around the state on Friday, Shah said.

Thursday’s briefing came the same day a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Janet Mills took effect, prohibiting residents from  traveling outside their homes for all but “essential personal activities” including grocery shopping, obtaining medical care or medication, engaging in outdoor exercise, travels related to child care, or commuting to an essential job.

The order is currently in place through April 30, although it could be shortened or extended by the governor. Shah said Thursday he could not speculate on whether the order would be needed after April 30, but that science says the best way to interrupt the spread of the virus is physical distancing.

On Thursday evening, Bath Iron Works announced that a second worker had tested positive for coronavirus. The shipyard, one of Maine’s largest employers, builds warships for the Navy and has continued to operate despite large numbers of workers staying home following the first worker’s positive test.

The CDC also has been closely monitoring the response to the virus in places where people tend to congregate in close quarters, like homeless shelters and nursing homes.

Maine currently has recorded two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at nursing homes, one each at two separate facilities.

There are also 13 recorded cases in independent senior living communities. Long, the Maine CDC spokesman, said there are eight cases at one community, OceanView at Falmouth; two separate communities have two cases each; and one community has one case.

Two cases have been confirmed among individuals associated with Portland’s Oxford Street homeless shelter, prompting city officials to open the Portland Expo as a quarantine area Tuesday night.

Shah said the Maine CDC has been meeting and planning with Portland officials and social services about the response to an outbreak among the homeless population.

A security officer stands at the emergency entrance to Mercy Hospital in Portland on Wednesday, where the hospital has set up a triage area. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“We are now putting those plans into action,” he said. The plans in general involve making sure individuals with signs and symptoms of the virus can get tests as fast as possible, that positive individuals have a safe place to recover and mitigate transmission and that those who are exposed can access care.

The virus’ spread around Maine and the country has disrupted daily life and had devastating effects on the economy, with weekly unemployment claims in Maine reaching a new high of 23,761 for the week ending Saturday.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office has also fielded dozens of coronavirus-related complaints, including concerns about price gouging as people have stockpiled toilet paper, household and medical supplies.

On Thursday, Shah warned people to be vigilant and keep on the look out for scams as well as the spread of inaccurate information. He encouraged people to seek information from trusted sources, including the Maine CDC and U.S. CDC websites and from the U.S. FDA website.

The coronavirus is currently present in 13 of Maine’s 16 counties and there is evidence of community transmission in two of them, Cumberland and York counties. Cumberland County so far has seen the bulk of confirmed cases, with 204 reported as of Thursday. Sixty-eight of the total 376 cases are health care workers.

No cases have been confirmed in Aroostook, Piscataquis or Washington counties, but Shah said that does not mean the virus is not present there.

“We have good reason to believe there already are cases in Aroostook County and for that reason we continue to urge everyone in the state,  no matter what county you’re in, to take steps to prepare and to stay inside,” he said. “This is a situation where one of the best things you can do to keep your family safe is to stay inside.”

There are currently 285 intensive care unit beds in Maine, 122 of which are open, and 334 ventilators, of which 266 are available, he said.

Maine also has 186 alternative ventilators approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration available.

Numbers were not available from the CDC Thursday in terms of how many of the currently occupied ICU beds and ventilators are being occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Long said that information should be available from Maine hospitals and that the CDC is working with them to come up with a reporting system that would make the numbers more readily available in the future.

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