AUGUSTA — Maine added more than a dozen new coronavirus cases on Thursday, lifting the statewide total to 155 as state health officials confirmed further “community transmission” in southern Maine and the first case in another rural county.

There was some good news during Thursday’s daily briefing on coronavirus in Maine, as health officials announced that 16 people were considered recovered and had been released from isolation. But 16 health care workers are among the 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19, highlighting a top concern in Maine and nationally that the coronavirus will overwhelm hospital systems in part by infecting frontline workers.

Additionally, epidemiologists have now confirmed that community transmission is happening in both York and Cumberland counties, meaning newly diagnosed patients picked up the disease from unknown individuals in the community rather than a known source. Cumberland County had 90 cases as of Thursday while York had 27.

COVID-19 has now been documented in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, including the first case in rural Franklin County. Nearly 3,400 tests have come back negative, but the state still faces a significant backlog of test samples waiting for analysis.

“In almost every outbreak that has ever been documented, what we see is only a small part of what is actually out there,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

The news conference begins at minute 16:20 on the above video.

Community transmission had previously been confined to Cumberland County. According to the Maine CDC, community transmission is believed to be occurring when a county has at least 10 cases, 25 percent of which cannot be traced to a specific person with COVID-19 or travel to infected areas.

“We certainly believe that there are additional cases of COVID-19 in counties even though it has not yet been diagnosed,” Shah said. “Whether there is community transmission in those counties yet, I’m not sure. But if it’s not there yet, based on the models and based on what we are seeing in other states, invariably it absolutely will be there soon.”

Thursday marked two weeks since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Maine. Since then, the number of cases in the large, sparsely populated state has risen steadily, jumping by double-digits in recent days.

That’s to be expected, Shah and other health officials warn, as infected people begin exhibiting symptoms and new transmissions occur despite widespread business and school closures, prohibitions on “social gatherings” and Mainers following social-distancing guidelines.

Those measures, along with good-hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing, aim to “flatten the curve” of infections to avoid an exponential spike of new cases in Maine. Those concerns are growing as New York, New Jersey, California and other states begin experiencing huge surges in confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 68,440 cases nationwide and just shy of 1,000 deaths as of Thursday – figures that had more than doubled in three days – numerous media outlets said that the United States had significantly more cases and had surpassed China and Italy for the most of any country in the world.

A running count kept by Johns Hopkins University showed that as of late Thursday night the U.S. had more than 85,000 confirmed cases, The Washington Post reported. Italy and China both had more than 80,000. Collectively the three countries accounted for about half the global total.

As the number of Cumberland County cases continued to rise, South Portland officials ordered city residents to stay at home beginning at noon Friday except for essential activities such as seeking medical care or groceries. Portland imposed a similar, stay-at-home order Tuesday, the same day that Gov. Janet Mills directed all nonessential businesses to shutter their “public-facing” operations.

Twenty-two people were hospitalized in Maine as of Thursday, Shah said, and confirmed cases are almost evenly divided between men and women. They range from 10 to 90 years old.

Other coronavirus-related statistics released Thursday include:

• 86 of Maine’s 151 intensive care unit beds were available as of Thursday.

• 250 of the state’s respiratory ventilators were available statewide.

• Health care facilities reported 88 “respiratory therapists” trained to operate ventilators.

• The state CDC is monitoring 48 people who came to Maine from countries with high levels of coronavirus infections, such as Italy or China.

The state has received additional personal protective equipment – such as N95 respirator masks, surgical masks, gloves and face shields – and will make more distributions to health care facilities, first responder agencies and others who need to safeguard health care workers, he said.

But Shah warned that the second distribution of supplies that Maine received from the federal stockpile could be the last, adding to concerns about potential shortages in the state with the nation’s oldest average population and the largest share of senior citizens.

“Thus far, what we have received from the national stockpile is approximately half of Maine’s allocated distribution,” Shah said. “We have also heard that more may not be on the way. We have also heard that for now the national stockpile may be reserving that other 50 percent for harder-hit jurisdictions. We respectfully disagree with that characterization.”

Shah also announced Thursday that nursing home residents and workers will now be given high priority for analysis of coronavirus tests after lingering on “Tier 2” of the priority list behind hospitalized individuals and health care workers.

That state-level policy shift comes after doctors in nursing homes raised concerns that they were waiting days for test results as part of a backlog of roughly 1,300 tests.

Shah said he also made the shift after reading new research on the spread of the virus on cruise ships, which Shah said were “somewhat functionally equivalent to nursing homes” because of the confined setting and interactions among residents.

An outside commercial lab is working with the CDC to help speed up testing and communicating results to authorities and patients, he said. But the CDC and the lab are both affected by a shortage of chemicals needed for the testing process.

The Maine CDC is purchasing an alternative type of test analysis equipment that does not require the chemical reagent that is in shortest supply nationwide.

The Mills administration also announced Thursday that Maine will follow the lead of the U.S. Treasury by extending the filing deadline for state income taxes from April 15 to July 15.

“It is my hope that moving back this deadline will help provide a measure of relief to Maine people who are struggling to make ends meet as a result of COVID-19,” Mills said in a statement. “The congressional actions in recent days make this move appropriate and practical.”

The state Bureau of Parks and Lands announced Thursday that state parks and beaches in southern Maine and the Midcoast would be closed beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday until April 8, including Reid State Park, Popham Beach State Park, Fort Popham, Fort Baldwin, Kettle Cove State Park, Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, Scarborough Beach State Park, Ferry Beach State Park, and Mackworth Island.

The bureau said it may take “additional measures” in other parks that saw heavy use last weekend, such as Sebago Lake, Wolfe’s Neck, Range Pond and Bradbury Mountain.

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