Lincoln County has its first two cases of COVID-19: in a woman in her 30s who works in health care and a man in his 40s who works as a nurse at LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus in Damariscotta.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced the woman’s presumptive positive test Sunday, March 15. The test has since been confirmed.
“Her employer has been contacted and steps have been taken to reduce exposure to patients, staff, and other community members,” the Maine CDC said in a statement. “She is isolated at home.”
The statement did not identify the woman’s employer.
LincolnHealth announced the nurse’s presumptive positive test Monday, March 16. It was the first presumptive positive test conducted by LincolnHealth.
Dr. Russ Mack, former chief medical officer and special consultant at LincolnHealth, said in a phone interview Monday that the nurse likely contracted the virus in Maine, but not at work.
The nurse did not exhibit symptoms, but suspected he may have been exposed and requested a test, Mack said.
He treated one patient before self-quarantining, according to a statement from LincolnHealth.
Mack said about 30 people have been tested for COVID-19 at the two LincolnHealth campuses, Miles in Damariscotta and St. Andrews in Boothbay Harbor. The hospital has approximately 140 test kits on hand.
At Miles, tests are being conducted while patients remain in their vehicles behind the emergency room, Mack said.
Test results, from NorDx Laboratories in Scarborough, are usually received within eight hours or the next day, Mack said.
All persons undergoing testing are either admitted to the hospital for treatment, if necessary, or directed to self-quarantine until results are received.
Mack urged residents to first call their primary care physician about whether they need a test. A doctor’s note is needed to be tested for COVID-19.
Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine CDC, said by email that the agency “would be in touch with anyone who came into close contact with an individual who tests positive to determine if those individuals should be tested or self-quarantine.”
“Our priorities continue to be ensuring the safety and well-being of our care team members while delivering the highest level of care to those who need it,’’ LincolnHealth President James Donovan said in a statement. “We’ve spoken with our care team that works with this nurse and informed all of our staff of this first case. We continue to take a high level of precaution, guided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to protect our workforce.”
According to the Maine CDC, symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, are fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and, in some patients, a sore throat.
According to guidelines from the White House and the U.S. CDC, the elderly and anyone who has a serious underlying medical condition that impairs lung or heart function or weakens the immune system should “stay home and away from other people.”
The guidelines say everyone should avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, use pickup or delivery options for food, work or study from home if possible, avoid discretionary travel, and forgo visits to long-term care facilities.
Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets from close personal contact, coughing or sneezing, or touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.
The Maine CDC recommends similar measures to flu and cold prevention, like washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding close contact when sick; avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; and staying home when sick.
“We certainly are encouraging social isolation – try to keep people away from each other, not going to places with large crowds, and stick close to home,” Mack, the LincolnHealth special consultant, said.
As of 11 a.m., Tuesday, March 17, 32 COVID-19 cases have been identified in Maine. This includes 23 confirmed cases and nine presumptive positive cases, according to the Maine CDC.
There have been 1,303 negative tests in Maine.
The coronavirus has been identified in all 50 U.S. states.
As of Wednesday morning, at least 5,881 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C. and three U.S. territories, have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, and at least 107 COVID-19 patients have died.
According to Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, the average age of the people infected is 50. However, one case involves a young child in Androscoggin County.
“We’ve also seen that many cases are linked to close household contacts – spouses, things of that nature,” Shah said in a news conference Tuesday, March 17.
Shah said there are cases in Kennebec, Oxford, and York counties, but there is only evidence of community transmission in Cumberland County.
LincolnHealth has updated its visitors policy at both campuses, effective at 11 a.m., Monday, March 16.
Visiting hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and there is a limit of one visitor per patient for inpatient and ambulatory care. No children under the age of 18 will be permitted into the hospital because children can carry the coronavirus and not show symptoms, according to a statement from the hospital.
There are exceptions for end-of-life care.
The main entrance will serve as the single entrance for the Miles Campus hospital, the Watson Health Center, and the St. Andrews Urgent Care Center. No visitors are currently allowed at LincolnHealth’s senior living facilities.
All visitors will be screened upon entering one of LincolnHealth’s facilities, according to the statement. Visitors will be asked a series of questions, including whether they have a fever, a new cough in the last 14 days, shortness of breath, a sore throat, or a runny nose.
“Individuals will also be asked if they have been in close proximity with someone who is currently sick with COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness within the past 14 days. Sick individuals may be asked to leave or be redirected to an appropriate point of care,” the statement reads.
“We recognize that these new policies have an impact on the everyday lives of our patients, their families, our staff and the larger community,” Donovan said in a statement. “Our priority now is slowing the spread of this virus and doing everything to care for those most affected by it as safely as possible.”
The hospital also suspended all elective and nonessential medical procedures and office visits.
John Martins, spokesperson for the hospital, said by email that patients will be informed of their appointment cancellations by March 29 and should not call the hospital to inquire about appointments.
According to a statement from LincolnHealth, the suspension of nonessential procedures and office visits is a step to prevent community spread of the coronavirus and protect providers so they can give care to patients who need it the most.
The Lincoln Home, an assisted-living and long-term care facility in Newcastle, has also restricted visits.
The facility moved to phase three of its health protection plan, limiting access to the building to essential personnel, on Monday.
In an update on the facility’s website Tuesday, The Lincoln Home said it is in the process of setting up a Skype account for videoconferencing with relatives. However, it encourages family members to use their own cellphones if possible, to reduce the burden on staff.
“It is clear that restrictions on social interactions to stop the spread of the virus will continue for several weeks,” The Lincoln Home posted on its website Tuesday.
The Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency has set up a virtual emergency operations center with staff working from their homes, according to County Administrator Carrie Kipfer. She said the commissioners expect community spread of the coronavirus to happen in Lincoln County, similar to Cumberland County.