After another week with no new cases, two more Lincoln County residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new cases Monday and Tuesday, April 13 and 14.
According to the Maine CDC, as of 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, April 14, Lincoln County has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Seven of the 11 patients have recovered; none have been hospitalized.
As of Tuesday, there were 734 cases of COVID-19 across 15 of Maine’s 16 counties. There have been 124 hospitalizations and 20 deaths due to the illness. Of the 734, 292 people have recovered.
The total number of cases in Maine is up by 41.43% over last week. There were eight deaths in the past week.
LincolnHealth has seen no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in two weeks. The four patients who have tested positive for the disease through the hospital have all recovered, according to Dr. Andrew Russ.
Russ said it is a good sign that LincolnHealth has not seen any new positives, but cautioned that LincolnHealth and hospitals across the state are not testing enough people.
“LincolnHealth and MaineHealth and doctors around the state are adhering to very strict guidelines for testing because of a shortage of tests,” Russ said in a phone interview.
The country and state have tight restrictions in place that determine who gets tested for COVID-19 due to the nationwide shortage of testing supplies.
The Maine CDC prioritizes who should get tested for COVID-19 in two tiers.
Tier one, the highest-priority individuals, are those who have been hospitalized; health care workers and emergency medical services workers; and patients living in group homes, like assisted-living facilities.
Tier two includes patients who are 65 or older and have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for severe complications from COVID-19.
Through Sunday, April 12, LincolnHealth had conducted 272 tests, with four positives and 268 negatives.
LincolnHealth spokesperson John Martins said by email that the hospital is still well stocked with personal protective equipment such as gowns, face masks, and goggles, and has 266 COVID-19 testing kits on hand.
Currently, LincolnHealth has four beds available in its intensive care unit and nine additional telemetry beds, which allow for constant monitoring of patients. The hospital has four ventilators and has contingency plans in the event that more acute COVID-19 patients are admitted.
Martins said LincolnHealth had been planning for a peak in COVID-19 cases on Sunday, April 19, but new data suggests the surge could occur up to two weeks beyond that date.
LincolnHealth has been taking steps over the past several weeks to prepare for a surge.
Russ said residents should continue to stay at home, practice physical distancing, and wash their hands frequently and well. Anyone who suspects they have COVID-19 symptoms should call their primary care doctor for an evaluation.
Mills postpones election, extends state of emergency
Gov. Janet Mills announced the extension of Maine’s state of civil emergency for another 30 days, until May 15, 2020, at the Maine CDC briefing Tuesday, April 14.
“I wish this proclamation was not necessary, but the continued spread of the virus demands a sustained response by the state,” Mills said. “For now, I continue to urge Maine people to do their part and stay apart. This is the best way we will defeat this virus and protect the state we all know and love.”
On April 10, Mills announced the change in date for the state primary from June 9 to July 14.
“The delay in the primary election will provide additional time for Maine people to request absentee ballots in order to minimize in-person interaction at the polls and will allow the Secretary of State’s Office additional time to develop guidelines to help municipalities conduct in-person voting in as safe a manner as possible,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
According to a separate press release from the governor’s office, the state of civil emergency “allows Governor Mills to deploy all available state resources to protect the health and safety of Maine people and to take every action she reasonably deems necessary to help respond to and protect against the spread of COVID-19 in Maine.”
Included in this authority is the power to extend the current stay-at-home order and closure of public-facing operations for all nonessential businesses. Those orders are currently set to expire April 30.
Mills said determining when the stay-at-home order can be lifted will depend on the ability to conduct more widespread testing for COVID-19.
“A lot of it depends on expanding testing as far and wide as we can, because testing will tell us whether the virus has spread. The numbers that (Maine CDC Director) Dr. (Nirav) Shah presents every day, when we say it’s new cases, it’s really new test results. The cases are out there; we just haven’t documented all of them or confirmed all of them. It is everywhere; we have to assume it is everywhere,” Mills said of the coronavirus.
Shah said in his Tuesday briefing that it is impossible to tell when the outbreak of the virus has peaked until after the fact. He said the agency uses various complex models to prepare the state’s health care system for the eventual peak in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“It’s closely akin to trying to figure out what the weather tomorrow will be like by pulling the almanac off the shelf and seeing what the weather was like last year,” Shah said of the models that project peak hospital use and case numbers.
Widely cited models from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate that peak hospital resource usage in Maine already happened Tuesday.
“It’s impossible to know at any one time whether we are at the peak. … We may not know for several weeks or several months whether today was the peak or was not the peak. In any outbreak, you really only know that in retrospect,” Shah said.
AOS 93 suspends in-class learning until May 31
Craig Jurgensen, superintendent of the Damariscotta-based school district AOS 93, and the AOS 93 Board agreed to keep the school district closed for in-person instruction until at least May 31, based on current guidelines from the Maine CDC and recommendations from the Maine Department of Education.
Remote learning will continue and April vacation will take place as scheduled April 20-24.
The AOS 93 school year is currently set to end June 19. Jurgensen said it remains to be seen if students will return to school for the final three weeks in June.
Jurgensen said the AOS 93 administration is working with LincolnHealth to develop a reentry plan for a return to normal classroom instruction, despite not yet having a return date.