Several hearts, including this banner tied to a parking garage, were hung around the emergency department entrance at Maine Medical Center, presumably in support for health care workers treating patients with COVID-19. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Maine recorded its first single-digit increase in new COVID-19 cases in a month on Monday, as several hundred people rallied in Augusta to call for fewer coronavirus-related restrictions and tensions increased between the White House and governors over testing.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 875 total confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, up eight from Sunday in what was the smallest increase since March 20. The Maine CDC also reported a woman in her 70s succumbed to the disease since Sunday, bringing total deaths in the state to 35.

But the virus continues to inflict a toll at some long-term care facilities, including at one Belfast nursing home where eight residents have died in recent weeks. The state’s total case figures likely only reflect a portion of the virus’s spread in Maine, however, because of limited testing and the fact that infected individuals may not begin exhibiting symptoms for up to 14 days after exposure.

President Trump continued to spar with governors over testing and testing capacity Monday – tweeting that “States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing”. The job then fell to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s coronavirus task force, to soften that message during a conference call with governors that included Maine Gov. Janet Mills.

However, the call didn’t resolve issues surrounding Maine’s testing capacity, said Lindsay Crete, Mills’ press secretary, citing inaccuracies in a state-by-state breakdown of each state’s testing capacity the White House distributed before the call.

“While the administration is still reviewing the document, it does not appear to be accurate and is not representative of testing capacity within Maine – a concern shared by several other governors with respect to their states,” Crete said in an email Monday night.

Crete gave two examples of errors in the document: a statement that Maine’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory has testing equipment that it does not have, and its failure to list a large laboratory that conducts testing.

Regardless, the Mills administration will continue to work with the federal government and private vendors to obtain needed testing material, she said.

“This inaccurate document aside, what Maine needs most right now is support from the federal government to expand testing in a significant and meaningful way, including delivery of additional testing supplies,” Crete said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said that while the “complexion of the outbreak” in Maine and across the country has changed, he urged people to continue taking steps to minimize the likelihood of transmission.

“The bottom line here, folks, is that we are still in the middle of things,” Shah said at an afternoon media briefing. “And so I urge everyone to continue with the social and physical distancing measures as long as we need so that we can keep everyone in the state safe.”

Shah made those comments not long after an estimated 200 people – some of them openly defying the recommended 6-foot buffer between others – gathered outside of the Maine State House and governor’s mansion to demand that Mills ease restrictions on Mainers and businesses.

The rally was the latest in a number of similar events around the country, often led by individuals or groups echoing Trump’s push to swiftly reopen the American economy, despite the fact that COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to rise nationwide. Public health experts have also warned about relaxing restrictions on traveling, social gathering and businesses before there is more widespread testing and tracing of cases.

Mills said last week that any decision about relaxing Maine’s stay-at-home order or restrictions on businesses “will be guided by fact, science and public health expertise.”

“As the president’s guidelines note, widespread testing, personal protective equipment, and contact tracing are critical to lifting restrictions and reviving the economy,” Mills said on Friday. “For that reason, the nation’s governors yesterday again urged the federal government to ensure that all states have these resources.”

In Maine, tests are analyzed by the Maine CDC’s laboratory in Augusta as well as an increasing number of commercial labs around the state. Asked about testing capacity during his daily briefing, Shah said the goal of the state lab is to be able to conduct “several thousand per week.”

“Our goal, overall, is to be at a place where every physician in Maine is able to test every patient she or he sees fit without having to worry about resource issues,” Shah said. “Some of that will entail working with commercial laboratories to see what their available capacity is, and an equal part of it will entail beefing up our capacity. But to this day, the constraint on that capacity remains the availability of reagents at the federal level.”

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Maine – calculated by subtracting the number of recovered individuals and deaths from the total cases – has flattened in recent days.

On Monday, there were 426 active cases of COVID-19 in the state, which represents a decrease of 14 cases since Sunday. Roughly 47 percent of the individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, or 414 people, have recovered from the disease and been released from isolation.

Thirty-nine people were hospitalized as of Monday, with 16 individuals being treated in intensive care units and nine on ventilators because of respiratory failure.

All told, there were 316 intensive care beds in Maine on Monday, of which 152 were available, and 336 ventilators, of which 287 were available. The state also had 369 alternative ventilators, the CDC said.

Cumberland and York counties continue to account for the majority of cases, with the two counties reporting 380 and 181 total COVID-19 cases, respectively, on Monday. But Waldo County has been hit hard by deaths, with eight of 43 diagnosed individuals succumbing to the virus.

Shah said there were no additional confirmed cases at long-term care facilities since Sunday. The disease has taken a toll on both residents and workers at the facilities, however.

The Tall Pines retirement community in the Waldo County town of Belfast has reported eight deaths out of 38 total cases. The Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation has reported 3 deaths among the 47 residents and 26 staff members who have tested positive. And the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough reported 30 residents and 17 staff had contracted COVID-19. At least two individuals have died at the Scarborough home.

Maine CDC officials are also tracking outbreaks at two other long-term care facilities: The Cedars in Portland and at Falmouth By the Sea.

All told, 182 residents or staff members affiliated with long-term care facilities have tested positive for the disease.

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