State health officials reported a new outbreak of 57 cases of COVID-19 at a Cape Elizabeth long-term care facility late Thursday, nearly doubling the total of new cases reported statewide earlier in the day.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention helped to test roughly 100 residents and staff at Cape Memory Care – a 72-bed facility for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – after a staff member tested positive Wednesday. The initial results, reported late Thursday night, revealed that 45 residents and 12 staff at the facility tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In response to the outbreak at Cape Memory Care, the Maine CDC said it would begin facilitating “universal testing” of all residents and staff at congregate living facilities after the first positive test. CDC officials said the change – universal testing previously began after three or more confirmed cases – was enabled by the recent expansion of testing capacity at the state lab.

The cases at Cape Memory Care represent the largest new outbreak reported at one time in Maine and additional results are still pending, Maine CDC officials said.

“Maine CDC’s outbreak response team is working closely with Cape Memory Care staff to support the health of individuals associated with the care center,” the agency said in a news release. “As is the protocol when an outbreak is confirmed, Maine CDC supplied additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection control guidance to the facility. Maine CDC is also working with the facility to support its staffing plan.”

The largest outbreak to date in Maine occurred at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation, which has had 76 infections and seven deaths. But Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, reported last week that the Augusta long-term care and rehab facility reached an important milestone by going more than 14 days – the estimated maximum incubation period for COVID-19 – without any new cases.

“Cape Memory Care has been following all of the guidance from Maine CDC for more than two months,” Matthew Walters, managing member at Cape Memory Care, said in a statement Thursday night. “As soon as we were informed that one of our staff members tested positive, we immediately arranged for universal testing of both staff and residents.”

Walters said that residents at the facility only began showing symptoms on the day universal testing was conducted, and that staff previously had no reason to believe there were any COVID-positive cases among the residents.

“It is staggering how quickly and quietly COVID-19 moves, and its ability to impact people and communities that are taking every possible step to prevent it,” Walters said.

The 57 infections at the facility on Scott Dyer Road in Cape Elizabeth were not included in the 58 new cases Shah reported Thursday morning because the results came out later in the day. The number of deaths of individuals with COVID-19 held steady at 73 for the second straight day.

Maine has experienced a spike in new cases in recent days due, in part, to a significant expansion of the testing capacity at Maine CDC’s Augusta laboratory. However, the 57 new cases at Cape Memory Care as well as recent outbreaks at the Clover Health Care long-term care facility in Auburn, Bristol Seafood’s processing plant in Portland and at a Cianbro construction site highlight the disease’s continued spread in Maine, particularly in “congregate settings.”

Prior to the Cape Elizabeth outbreak, the Maine CDC was reporting 1,877 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the state. On Wednesday, the state saw the largest single-day jump when 76 new cases were reported – a figure that is likely to be eclipsed by Friday’s report.

Earlier Thursday, the Mills administration also announced plans to devote parts of a $52.7 million federal grant to help rural hospitals expand laboratory capacities to detect COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, as well as to add more drive-thru testing locations in Maine.

“The drive-thru model is a safe way for someone who is a close household contact (of an infected individual), but who doesn’t have symptoms to still get tested without exposing large numbers of individuals,” Shah said.

The Maine CDC was tracking 659 active cases of COVID-19 in the state on Thursday morning after adjusting for the 73 deaths and 1,145 individuals who have recovered from the disease. That is an increase of 23 active cases since Wednesday.

Maine averaged 594 active cases per day for the seven-day period ending Thursday. That’s an increase from the average of 538 active cases per day for the week ending May 14, illustrating a steady upward trend in new COVID-19 cases.

Forty-one people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Maine, which is a decrease of two, while the number of individuals being treated in intensive care units also fell from 24 to 21 between Wednesday and Thursday.

OUTBREAKS UPDATE

The Maine CDC continues to discover and monitor COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities and workplaces around the state.

During his daily briefing, Shah reported that his agency is aware of three cases at the Seal Rock Health Care long-term care facility in Saco as well as three cases at Woodford Family Services, a residential facility for individuals with special needs in South Portland.

More than half of Maine’s 73 deaths have occurred among residents of long-term care facilities.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairwoman of the Senate Aging Committee, convened a hearing in Washington, D.C., Thursday to highlight the devastating toll COVID-19 is having on seniors, and particularly those who live in long-term care facilities.

Dr. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health services research at the University of Chicago who has studied the effect of COVID-19 on nursing homes, testified during the hearing and recommended that long-term care facilities implement regular and rapid testing of all residents and staff.

“There have been a few key lessons learned, and one is that it is very important to test all residents, and not wait until residents are … symptomatic, because by then it’s too late,” Konetzka told the committee. “(W)hat I’ve heard from geriatricians is generally weekly (testing) would be good or at least biweekly, so that residents can then be separated and the transmission can be stopped.”

The Maine CDC was also investigating a cluster of cases at Tambrands, a large Procter & Gamble factory in Auburn. Shah said it was too early to tell whether the cases stem from an outbreak at the plant or whether the individuals were separately exposed outside of the facility.

The agency also has confirmed 26 positive cases among contractors who had worked for Cianbro Corp. at the construction site of a new veterans home in Augusta. Adding to the complexity of the Cianbro outbreak, the 26 cases are scattered among residents of five states – 11 from Maine, eight from Rhode Island, five from New Hampshire, and one each from North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Under the Mills administration’s policies, construction workers from outside of Maine are among “essential” personnel – along with doctors, nurses and others – who are exempt from the 14-day quarantine requirement for all other out-of-state residents.

“We are continuing to try to put together the symptom onset to try to get a better sense of where the individuals may have contracted COVID-19,” Shah said.

He said the number of cases at Bristol Seafood’s processing plant on the Portland Fish Pier held steady at 15.

CDC staff on Thursday also were analyzing tests conducted a day earlier of 200 residents of an affordable housing complex at 100 State St. in Portland that caters to senior citizens and disabled individuals.

At the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, where an inmate tested positive for COVID-19 this week, all 221 tests of inmates and staff that had been analyzed by CDC staff as of Thursday evening were negative. The agency was awaiting results on 200 more tests and planned to conduct roughly 375 more tests in the coming days, Shah said.

Portland officials, meanwhile, were waiting for test results on 55 residents and staff at the Barron Center, a city-run skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said a resident who tested positive the other day and tested negative in a repeat test will be tested a third time. The resident was relocated to a separate, empty wing of the facility that had been reserved for COVID-19 cases.

“We are obviously working with the Maine CDC and are following all of their guidelines,” Grondin said. “They tested all of the other residents in that unit that that person was residing in.”

MORE TESTING

Earlier this week, the CDC’s lab in Augusta fully implemented additional testing machines – obtained through a deal negotiated with Westbrook-based Idexx Laboratories – that will allow CDC staff to process up to 7,000 tests weekly. That is more than triple the number from just two weeks ago.

Shah has cautioned that additional tests will likely reveal additional COVID-19 infections, thereby increasing Maine’s case numbers. The nearly 2,000 confirmed or probable cases documented in Maine to date reflect only a portion of the actual infections in Maine because many people were not tested because of the previously limited testing capacity or are asymptomatic for the disease.

Last week, members of Maine’s congressional delegation announced that Maine would receive $52.7 million in federal grants to support testing activity in the state as part of the coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress.

On Thursday, the Mills administration said that money will be used to continue construction of a new Maine CDC laboratory that had begun before the coronavirus pandemic. The funding also will be used to bolster rural hospitals’ testing capabilities and to establish more drive-thru testing locations.

Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, noted that there are currently 38 so-called “swab and send” sites where health care workers can administer tests to individuals in their cars rather than requiring them to enter a building.

Lambrew said the department would have additional information about potential sites in the coming weeks.

“We are working both with Maine CDC, but also with the Department of Transportation, for example, who is looking at places and sites in Maine where people can drive through these sites safely,” Lambrew said. “So we are not causing congestion, we’re not causing traffic backups and we are making sure that testing capacity is accessible locally.”

JOBLESS NUMBERS RISING

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills has begun rolling back restrictions on businesses throughout Maine, and particularly in 12 counties where community transmission of the disease has not been documented. Restaurants and retail stores in the remaining four counties – York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Penobscot – are tentatively scheduled to begin reopening on June 1 with restrictions, although that is subject to change.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic continues to hammer Maine’s economy despite the limited business reopenings.

On Thursday, the Maine Department of Labor reported that more than 11,500 Maine residents filed for unemployment last week, lifting the total since March to more than 138,000.

Additionally, the number of Mainers who remain on unemployment benefits, meaning they have not returned to regular work, continues to increase. Last week, 92,000 continuing claims were filed for state unemployment and 35,700 weekly claims were filed under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to self-employed people, contractors and other workers who are not typically eligible for unemployment.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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