Coronavirus: Shah warns ‘we’re still in the middle of things’

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The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had a simple message this week about the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are still in the middle of things,” Dr. Nirav Shah said Monday. “I urge everyone to continue with the social distancing and physical distancing measures for as long as we need, so we can keep everyone in the state of Maine safe.”

As of Tuesday, Maine had recorded 36 deaths from COVID-19 and there had been more than 43,000 deaths in the country. Maine had 888 confirmed cases, an increase of 13 from Monday, when 212 health-care workers were among those who had contracted the virus. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention: “I’m deeply concerned about the impact on rural Maine.”

Shah on Tuesday said 443 people have recovered and 139 people have been hospitalized at some point. He said there are 16 people in intensive care units, 24 in non-intensive care units, and eight people still on ventilators. 

Shah said there are 317 total ICU beds in the state, 149 of which are available. There are a total of 336 traditional ventilators, 281 of which are available. And he said there are a total of 369 alternative ventilators being reported by Maine hospitals.

The CDC also continues to monitor five long-term care facilities across the state, where outbreaks of the virus have occurred. As of Monday:

• The Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation has had 73 cases: 47 residents and 26 staff members. Three people have died.

• Falmouth by the Sea in Falmouth there have been 14 cases, split evenly between residents and staffers. 

• The Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough has had 47 cases, including 30 residents. Tall Pines in Belfast has had 38 cases, with 28 residents and 10 staffers. Eight people have died.

• And the Cedars facility in Portland has had 10 cases, including seven residents.

Overall, Shah said there have been 119 residents at long-term care facilities and 63 staffers affected with the virus, for a total of 182 confirmed cases associated in some way with these facilities.

Shah said even though nearly 40 percent of the confirmed cases in Maine are either health-care workers or those associated with long-term care facilities, the Maine CDC does not want to reopen the state government and economy too quickly. The concern, which he said has been seen in other countries, is a second spike in the virus.

“The risk of a second bump is pronounced,” he said.

Shah’s press briefing came the same day that about 300 protesters gathered outside the Statehouse in Augusta to protest the stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Janet Mills. Several other states saw similar protests over the weekend. 

Shah said his message to those protesting, many of whom were not observing recommended social distancing rules, was the same message he gives to everyone in Maine.

“Stay safe, the virus is out there,” he said.

Shah repeated a message he has delivered several times during the health crisis – that rural parts of the state that have so far experienced lower numbers are not necessarily safer.

He said larger counties have seen larger infection numbers because of population disparity. But all of Maine’s counties have now seen confirmed cases, and Shah has been advocating for everyone in Maine to act as if the virus has already been confirmed in their areas.

“I’m deeply concerned about the impact on rural Maine,” he said, adding the CDC is in contact with health-care providers and hospitals in those regions to “make sure they didn’t have a false sense of security.” 

He also said rural parts of the state may not be equipped for a second wave of the virus outbreak, since they may not have the same access to resources as more urban areas.

“We are still very much in the middle of this,” Shah said. “We hope we don’t see a secondary bump of cases in the rural parts of the state.”

Shah said the Maine CDC has approximately 199,000 N95 masks available; 126,000 surgical masks; about 4,000 face shields; 19,000 gloves; more than 3,000 disposable protective suits, and 7,400 surgical gowns. 

He said the state has trained 22 members of the Maine National Guard to be certified to properly fit test the N95 masks to ensure they work. This test involves putting these masks on an individual and spraying a “bitter spray” around the person. If the person can smell the spray, it means the mask does not properly fit.

The N95 masks are typically reserved for health-care workers, he said. Masks, including surgical masks, are different from face coverings, which he said any person can fashion at home. 

Typically, a face covering doesn’t protect the person wearing it from anyone else; instead, it helps protect others who may be around the person wearing the covering. While there is some data that suggests face coverings can help stem the spread of the virus, he said, it does not mean they are an alternative to good physical distancing practices.

“Without a vaccine,” Shah said, “we should take every advantage we can get.”

Edited April 22 to correctly identify Falmouth by the Sea.

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