At press time Wednesday, April 29, Lincoln County has not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in two weeks. All but two of the 12 residents who have tested positive for the respiratory illness have recovered, leaving only two known active cases.
None of the 12 have been hospitalized, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, case numbers and death rates are beginning to flatten in the state and Gov. Janet Mills has announced a plan to gradually restart the economy.
As of Tuesday, April 28, 1,040 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in all 16 of Maine’s counties. There have been 163 hospitalizations and 51 deaths, while 585 people have recovered.
There have been 16,784 negative tests in the state.
The number of active cases, which includes all cases except those who have recovered and those who have died, has begun to level off over the last two weeks, after steadily increasing for about a month.
Maine currently has 158 beds available in intensive care units and 298 ventilators available in hospitals statewide.
LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus, in Damariscotta, remains in a “surge maintenance” phase in the event of a spike in COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization and critical care, according to hospital spokesperson John Martins.
The hospital has been preparing for a surge for the past six weeks, since the first case of COVID-19 in Lincoln County was announced March 15.
LincolnHealth has seen only one new confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past four weeks, with none since last week. The last individual who tested positive lives in Cumberland County, according to Martins.
Four Lincoln County residents have tested positive through LincolnHealth and all four have recovered, according to Dr. Andrew Russ.
In an interview with Lincoln County Television on April 27, LincolnHealth Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Fox expressed concern about a decline in emergency room visits and urged residents to continue utilizing the hospital in the event of a medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke.
“We asked people to stay home and they did, which was great. It flattened the curve,” Fox told LCTV. “But an unintended consequence of that was that people were putting off urgent medical needs because they’re afraid to come into the hospital, either afraid to come in or didn’t want to overburden the hospital. In doing so, they put themselves at risk.”
Fox said patients can also be seen remotely by physicians, especially regarding chronic health problems, using LincolnHealth’s telehealth service.
The hospital is looking at how to slowly phase back in care for non-COVID-19 patients and patients with other nonemergency health issues, according to Fox.
After temporarily suspending services at the end of March, the Lincoln Medical Partners campus in Wiscasset reopened Monday, April 27, Fox said.
Martins said by email Monday that discussions are ongoing about how to bring the hospital’s many services back online.
“It will certainly be a slow and steady process,” Martins said. He added that the hospital wants to ensure the highest level of care for patients, while at the same time continuing to protect the community and employees according to federal and local guidance.
LincolnHealth’s COVID-19 clinic is fielding 10-20 calls per day and testing fewer than 10 people each day, Fox said. The hospital’s inventory of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remains “adequate,” he added.
As of Monday, April 27, the hospital has conducted 346 tests for COVID-19.
Plan to restart economy
As the curve of COVID-19 cases and deaths appears to be flattening in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills announced an extension of the statewide stay-at-home order through May 15, along with a four-phase approach to reopening the economy, in a news conference Tuesday, April 28.
The four-stage plan, which will begin Friday, May 1, will lift certain statewide restrictions on businesses and individuals at the start of each month.
“I am proud of the work Maine people have done to mitigate the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve, but our work is far from over,” Mills said at the news conference. “While this plan presents a path forward for gradually and safely restarting our economy, it should not lure Maine people into thinking that this pandemic is almost over or that things will be back to normal soon.
“The hard truth is that they are not; that they likely will not be for a long time; and that, with this plan, we are inventing a new normal – a different way of doing business, shopping, traveling, and enjoying the Maine outdoors in ways that keep us all safe.”
The tentative plans will rely on several key health markers for guidance in decision-making – whether to continue loosening restrictions or tighten them back down.
“The Maine CDC will be tracking three primary metrics in its evaluation of whether or not to progress through the stages: 1) a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like syndromic cases; 2) a downward trajectory of documented cases and newly hospitalized patients; and 3) the capacity of Maine’s hospital systems to treat all patients without crisis care and the ability of the state to engage in a robust testing program,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. “The Administration will also continue to evaluate standards outlined in the Governor’s vision statement, such as testing capacity and contact tracing, to inform decisions about proceeding.”
The new “stay safer at home” executive order, expected by Thursday, April 30, will continue requiring residents to stay home except for essential activities, but will allow visits to a small group of businesses permitted to open Friday.
Essential activities currently permitted include grocery shopping; obtaining medical care or medication; providing care to another person, a pet, or livestock; outdoor exercise; or working an essential job.
Businesses that will be permitted limited expansion while maintaining strict prevention measures on May 1 include: health care providers; personal services, such as barbershops, hair salons, and pet groomers; limited drive-in religious services; drive-in movie theaters; outdoor recreation like guided hunting and fishing and restricted use of golf and disc golf courses; state parks, state-owned public land trails, and historic sites, although certain coastal state parks will remain closed; and auto dealerships and car washes.
This first stage also will continue the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people, the quarantine of all people entering or returning to Maine for two weeks, and special precautions for older Mainers and others at risk of COVID-19.
Stage 2 is tentatively set for June 1, when the limitations on gatherings may be changed to allow for up to 50 people. This stage would continue to ask people who can work from home to do so.
Stage 2 would allow for some degree of opening with reservations, capacity limits, and other measures for: restaurants; fitness and exercise centers; nail technicians; retail stores; lodging, campgrounds and day camps for Maine residents and children who have met the 14-day quarantine requirement; and coastal state parks.
Tentatively beginning on July 1, stage 3 would allow for some degree of opening for hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks; outdoor recreation like charter boats and boat excursions; bars; and personal services such as spas, tattoo and piercing parlors, and massage facilities. This stage would continue to require a 14-day quarantine for those returning to Maine and continue a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
Stage 4, which has no set timeline, contemplates lifting restrictions and allowing all activities to resume with appropriate safety precautions.
Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, both stressed that the timelines are fluid and will be altered as new data comes in and testing capacity in the state increases.
Shah said he would like to double or triple Maine’s current testing capacity for COVID-19.
“Our goal is … that any physician in the state of Maine can offer a test for COVID-19 to any of his or her patients without having to worry about resource availability,” Shah said Tuesday.