Maine recorded its largest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases to date on Friday, and Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order that requires anyone arriving in the state to self-quarantine for 14 days and lodging businesses to suspend operations to curtail visitors from out of state.

The 56 new cases bring the statewide total to 432, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a media briefing Friday morning. Two more Mainers have died of coronavirus, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, both residents of Cumberland County, bringing the death toll to nine.

Mills’ order, issued Friday evening, mandates the suspension of all lodging operations, including hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns and short-term rentals, as well as RV parks and campgrounds. She directed the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority and other state agencies to post the self-quarantine order at all major points of entry into the state. Mills’ order exempts anyone providing essential services.

The governor said she took the step to prevent the state’s health care system from “being overwhelmed.” The order went into effect immediately and extends until at least April 30.

Seventy-five people in Maine have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at some point and 113 of those who tested positive have recovered. That’s an increase of 17 since Thursday.

Aroostook and Washington counties each reported one case for the first time, leaving Piscataquis County as the only one of Maine’s 16 counties with no cases.

In addition, a student at Thornton Academy in Saco has tested positive for the virus.

Shah said the 56 case-increase – the largest single-day increase since Maine reported its first coronavirus case on March 12 – is concerning but not unlike what is happening in neighboring states. As of Friday, the World Health Organization was reporting more than 213,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 4,700 deaths.

Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine CDC, said after Friday’s briefing that the increase in cases between Thursday and Friday is likely due to a combination of the virus spreading and the arrival of more test results, the timing of which can vary based on factors like transport time and testing protocols at different labs.

Asked about specific projections of case numbers and deaths in Maine from modeling programs, Shah said the state wasn’t trying to guess what might happen but is using modeling scenarios to make sure resources are in line with potential needs.

“The purpose of the modeling is not to try to guess what might happen, but to see if our projections, our requests of the federal government, are in line with what anything might show,” Shah said. “In this situation with respect to coronavirus, much of the modeling and where we go depends on how effective many of these physical distancing measures are.”

 

Traffic data shows Mainers are adhering to physical distancing recommendations and there have been reductions of 50 percent or more in the normal traffic flow in recent weeks, most notably in Cumberland County, where the bulk of the state’s cases are, Shah said.

Right now it’s the best known way to prevent the spread of the disease, but it’s unclear how long it will take for physical distancing to impact the disease’s progression.

“What we don’t yet know as a scientific community is to what extent social distancing will impact the shape of the curve – whether it’s today or tomorrow versus next week,” Shah said. “We do know social distancing is the best vaccine we’ve got, but the question is how long does it take before we actually see the signs of that immunity start showing up?”

Discussing critical medical equipment, Shah said the CDC was working with the Maine Department of Transportation on Friday to distribute over 109,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to health care workers around the state.

That includes over 8,400 N95 masks; over 40,000 surgical masks; nearly 2,000 disposable protective suits; 33,000 gloves; almost 16,000 face shields; and over 10,000 surgical gowns.

Initial shipments of PPE by the Maine CDC were made to the least equipped areas, while Friday’s distribution focused on areas of the state seeing high patient volume, high numbers of vulnerable individuals and where it is needed by health care workers.

The distribution in general went to EMS workers, law enforcement and funeral homes, as well as hospitals and congregate living settings like homeless shelters and nursing homes.

Maine currently has 110 out of 289 intensive care unit beds available and 267 out of 324 ventilators available. Shah said the state also has “just under 200” alternative ventilators approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The numbers of available equipment have increased as hospitals share more information with the Maine CDC.

Also on Friday, Mills and the state’s congressional delegation called on the U.S. Department of Defense to take further steps to protect workers at Bath Iron Works after a second employee there tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

The shipyard is one of Maine’s largest employers and has been deemed essential under federal guidance. It has remained open despite large numbers of workers staying home following the first worker’s positive test March 22.

State officials have encouraged Mainers to adhere to physical distancing to stop the spread of the virus. A statewide stay-at-home order prohibiting residents from traveling outside their homes for all but “essential personal activities” took effect Thursday.

The Trump administration announced new federal guidelines Friday recommending that Americans wear face coverings when in public to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people, especially in areas hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, to use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while outdoors.

Shah said Friday morning, before the federal government made its recommendation, that it is important to remember that masks do not relieve anyone from the obligation to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Wearing a mask can also lead some people to touch their faces more, especially if they are not used to wearing one, he said.

The president doesn’t plan to wear a mask, saying he couldn’t envision himself greeting world leaders in the Oval Office while wearing a mask.

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