AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Dept. of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew convened a special briefing Wednesday afternoon in Augusta, by livestream, to discuss Maine’s recent spike of COVID-19 cases throughout the state, including the Midcoast.
“Stick to it, stick together,” said Gov. Mills, urging citizens to hunker down, wear masks, keep at a distance from others, and fight the virus’ spread.
Noting a briefing was not scheduled to be held today, as they usually are held Tuesdays and Thursdays, Dr. Shah noted the trio wanted to speak directly to Mainers Wednesday due to the increase of 76 new cases established since yesterday.
The number of hospitalizations in Maine over the past week have doubled, Shah noted Wednesday.
He noted significant and troubling trends, including 250 new cases from Sunday to Wednesday with the bulk coming from Cumberland, York, Knox and Washington counties. Fourteen of Maine’s 16 counties recorded new cases in the last 24 hours, including 11 new cases in Knox County, ranging from eight months old to 94 years old and 14 are under the age of 18 years old.
As of Oct. 28, the Maine CDC is reporting 6,387 cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the state since March including 5,670 confirmed cases and 717 probable cases with 5,441 recoveries, 484 hospitalizations and 146 deaths.
In the Midcoast, since March, Knox County has recorded 78 cases with 54 recoveries, six hospitalizations and one death.
Waldo County has recorded 150 cases, 91 recoveries, 11 hospitalizations and 14 deaths.
Lincoln County has recorded 61 cases with 50 recoveries, five hospitalizations and one death.
Cases have been recorded at eight different schools and two different long-term care facilities within the last 24 hours across the state. 1,144 healthcare workers have been infected with the virus in Maine since March, according to Dr. Shah and Governor Mills.
Ten cases of COVID-19 were confirmed Tuesday at the Woodlands Memory Care facility on Camden Street in Rockland, and the Maine CDC has opened an investigation there. An early Tuesday evening statement from the facility at 6 p.m. noted eight residents and two employees tested positive for COVID-19, which was an additional seven confirmed cases following Dr. Shah’s announcement earlier in the day of three cases known to Maine CDC.
“We strongly expect that there will additional cases in the coming days as that facility as the facility conducts and receives results of universal testing,” said Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Tuesday. “We are very concerned about this outbreak at this particular facility based on our experience of working with another memory care facility earlier this summer.”
The residents at these facilities are “particularly vulnerable,” said Shah, during his Oct. 27 scheduled briefing.
Woodlands is owned by the Maine-based company Woodlands Senior Living, a family-owned senior care organization. According to the facility’s website, Woodlands Memory Care “is a modern senior living community that has been specially designed to meet the unique needs of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other memory impairments.”
The facility has 38 beds in private and shared rooms.
“We sadly expect more cases,” said Shah, at the Tuesday briefing, and on Wednesday Shah noted a bump in cases.
As of Wednesday, there are now 12 cases, split among 10 residents and two staff members at the Woodlands facility.
Shah noted Wednesday additional testing for COVID-19 remains underway at the facility, and the Maine CDC expects more cases due to more testing and the unique vulnerability of the facility’s residents.
The Maine CDC, as of Tuesday, is continuing its investigation of the Waldo County outbreak, which caused 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 34 cases are considered primary, meaning the the afflicted attended a fellowship or church service. The other 26 cases are considered secondary, meaning that each of them had come into direct, close and sustained contact with a primary case.
That outbreak originated with the Brooks Church, at a fellowship and worship services.
Shah said the Maine CDC is investigating whether the Waldo County outbreak is connected to Woodlands. As of Tuesday, he said, there is no connection, but it remains under investigation.
“It is possible we may identify linkages among those cases,” he said.
Shah emphasized at his Oct. 27 briefing that, “the horse is getting further and further away from the barn.”
With the concerning signs, he stressed Tuesday the importance of wearing masks, maintaining at least a six-foot distance from others, and being careful in all situations. Shah warned that community and household transmission has increased in every corner of the state.
Dr. Shah said Tuesday the rise in the number of cases is “concerning.”
“We are in it now,” he said, Oct. 27. This puts to rest that: “It can’t happen here. Because right now, it is happening here.”
Almost every day, “we see new cases in every county,” he said.
Community transmissions, he added on Tuesday, are harder to tamp down.
“The uninvited guest is in multiple homes,” he said.
In fact, Shah noted “the virus is everywhere among us,” during the Wednesday briefing, largely due to Mainers largely staying home earlier in the pandemic whereas more Mainers are out and about within the community and the state now, thus allowing the virus to travel wider across Maine.
“The risk facing us is one we cannot ignore,” said Shah, noting the importance of regaining control of the virus as Maine previously had.
Speaking about the nation’s response to COVID-19, Governor Mills said: “The death rate in the U.S. is much higher than most other countries. We do not have this virus under control.”
Whether or not we can regain control of the virus is in the hands of Mainers themselves and how Mainers respond.
“We know that COVID-19 thrives on even slightest hint of complacency,” said Governor Mills. “We can’t wait until it takes more lives and cripples more communities.”
Many of these cases are not exclusively related to large outbreaks, the Governor said, and may be connected to small gatherings such as dinner parties or going to social club events.
Now is not the time to be sharing meals, for example, with members of multiple households.
“Don’t be fooled, we know this virus spreads exponentially,” said Governor Mills, while noting the more the virus spreads and gets out of hand, the harder it is to regain control over the virus.
The only way to manage the virus, Governor Mills said, is to follow health guidelines including social distancing, wearing masks, washing your hands, and encouraging others to take the virus seriously and take the necessary precautions.
“Lives are at stake here, make no mistake about it,” she said.
It is imperative, the Governor noted, to adhere to health guidelines to allow the state to continue on its current path to recovery which includes economic recovery, allowing in-person classroom learning, remaining healthy as a state, and allowing young athletes to participate in athletics.
The Governor noted Mainers have a resilience within them to overcome the damages COVID-19 has already done to the state, and she is confident the state will bounce back stronger than ever so long as Mainers play their part in protecting themselves and each other.