Central Maine Medical Center is seen Wednesday from Main Street in Lewiston. Officials of its parent company, Central Maine Healthcare, pleaded Wednesday for Mainers to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Leaders from Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston, MaineGeneral Health in Augusta and Northern Light Health in Bangor gathered Wednesday to plead with Mainers to wear masks, wash their hands and socially distance as the pandemic continues to rage.

“We are seeing alarming increases in the number of cases across the state. It is no longer confined to our more urban areas; we are seeing rural communities devastated by this disease,” James Jarvis, senior physician executive for COVID-19 incident command for Northern Light Health, said during a joint press briefing. “We are seeing families who have to mourn loved ones — that really should not have happened if we had all followed the rules and guidance from early on in this pandemic.”

The three health systems released an unusual joint letter to Mainers asking them to think of frontline health care workers and to take precautions against COVID-19 this winter.

“We are your neighbors, community volunteers, coaches, and friends. We need your help so we can continue caring for all patients in need,” the letter read. “Without your help, health care in Maine will be unnecessarily stressed.”

Maine recorded 405 new cases Wednesday, the second highest daily case count since the pandemic began here in March. It also reported the deaths of seven people, including two from Androscoggin County.

All three hospital systems are seeing more patients with the virus. Central Maine Healthcare, for example, averaged fewer than four COVID-19 patients a day in April, during the first surge. It’s now caring for 12 to 15 patients a day, mostly at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“We know the coming weeks and months could be devastating for Maine families and more challenging than ever for health care workers,” said CMHC Chief Medical Officer John Alexander. “We set new records for positive cases (in Maine) each week. Mainers in our communities, including those very health care givers that provide services in each of our hospitals and clinics, are physically, emotionally and socially drained.”

Asked when the hospitals will start experiencing trouble because of the number of COVID-19 patients, Jarvis at Northern Light responded, “I would say that we’re already there.”

“We could actually be lessening the number of patients if we’re all doing the things that we’re supposed to do,” he said.

The trio asked Mainers to take basic precautions, such as wearing a mask and washing their hands. They also asked people to stay home when sick and to reconsider their traditional holiday plans.

“We’re asking you to be more thoughtful, maybe change your approach,” Steve Diaz, chief medical officer for MaineGeneral Health, said. “We all want to see loved ones. We all want to get together, do some socializing. But we’re asking Mainers this holiday season to do things a little bit differently.”

They asked that people avoid gathering with multiple households, wear masks when they do socialize and meet outside whenever possible.

“We recognize it’s a real sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice that could save a life,” Diaz said.

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