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MaineHealth reports more Mainers being tested, officials say risk remains low

The Maine CDC recommends that anyone concerned that they may have the virus -- symptoms include fever and/or cough, difficulty breathing and possibly a sore throat

MAINE, USA — MaineHealth announced more Mainers are being tested for coronavirus because testing guidelines are being expanded.

MaineHealth Chief Medical Officer Joan Boomsma, MD released the following statement:

"As part of our ongoing coronavirus preparedness efforts, MaineHealth has expanded our guidelines for surveilling, testing and monitoring new and admitted patients to align with CDC guidelines. This broader criteria, specifically patients with respiratory ailments of unknown origin, has naturally increased the number of patients who qualify for testing. Currently samples are being ordered through the federal CDC; no results have been returned. Any positive cases will be closely coordinated with state and federal health officials.

While we are focused on ensuring our capacity to care for patients is continuous and in line with evidence-based practices, we urge community members to be informed for their own health. Individuals should practice good hand hygiene, monitor state and federal CDC updates and take appropriate measures if they are sick, such as calling their physician’s office first if they are not feeling well."

While we are focused on ensuring our capacity to care for patients is continuous and in line with evidence-based practices, we urge community members to be informed for their own health. Individuals should practice good hand hygiene, monitor state and federal CDC updates and take appropriate measures if they are sick, such as calling their physician’s office first if they are not feeling well.

As rumors about the novel COVID-19 form of the coronavirus spread and supermarket shelves emptied Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed at noon that only one person in Maine has met federal criteria to be tested for the virus, and that test came back negative.

However, spokesman Robert Long said that with federal testing guidelines changing quickly, more samples would likely be tested soon.

The Maine CDC recommends that anyone concerned that they may have the virus -- symptoms include fever and/or cough, difficulty breathing and possibly a sore throat  -- call their healthcare provider and not simply arrive at an emergency room.

Still, as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that COVID-19 has now been detected in 60 locations internationally, Long said the Maine CDC has long-planned for emergencies -- whether a hurricane, flood, blizzard or virus -- and that recommendations that residents keep supplies on hand are not new.

Locally and internationally, supplies of hand sanitizer have dwindled, prompting Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer of Maine Health, to share on her Facebook page a recipe for making your own sanitizer from isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel.

Long said the Maine CDC on Monday conducted an hour-long conference call with some 600 healthcare providers in the state. The department also continues to work with the state Department of Education to closely monitor developments.

As in the case of snowstorms, ice storms, and in recent years, even the seasonal flu, individual school districts are responsible for deciding when and if to close schools.

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Johns Hopkins University has compiled a real-time interactive map showing the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, how many deaths the virus has caused, as well as how many people have recovered since being diagnosed.

Johns Hopkins University notes the cases are being gathered by state/province/region and do not in any way represent information for cities. The dots on the map are computer generated and placed near the center of those states/regions/provinces.

Dr. Brenda Braxton, who works at Adventist Health in Oregon, says if you have mild symptoms of any kind, the best course of action is to stay home and "manage" it out. 

"The concern is we have two different issues: one is the individual and one is the community," she said. "We want to avoid spreading this to the community. The last place to go to if you have a mild disease is the clinic or the emergency room.

Dr. Braxton stressed most people who contract the illness will get better without any long-term effects. "About 82% of cases tend to be mild," she said. "What we see is their symptoms diminish over five to seven days. They’re still capable of transmitting the disease. But that’s how it will play out for most people. When you look at people who have higher risk, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma and other vascular disease problems, they’re going to be at higher risk of having a more severe disease."

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah spoke with NEWS CENTER Maine's Sean Stackhouse on Feb. 28 and answered some viewer questions.

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"Based on what we know now in the United States, the risk of of coronavirus infection remains low," said Dr. Shah. "But that's changing. We urge everybody to do a few things right now to prepare for the possibility of coronavirus. The first is to stay healthy. 

Shah urges all Mainers to eat well, get enough sleep and get a flu shot if you haven't already. Shah also recommends checking Maine's and the United States CDC website to stay informed. 

"Cases of coronavirus around the world have been increasing, and that's concerning," said Shah at the time.. "What's been encouraging is despite the fact that there are tens of thousands of cases around the globe, there are so cases in the United States. Forty-five of those cases are among individuals who have been repatriated to the United States."

On Monday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills convened a response team that will coordinate the state government’s response to the potential spread of COVID-19 across departments and local agencies.

The Maine CDC said preventing the virus from spreading starts with taking the same preventive measures that help to avoid catching a cold. These measures include:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water and use an alcohol-based sanitizer in between washings
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throwing the tissue in the trash
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Refraining from touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Staying home if you are sick
  • Taking care of your overall health by staying current on your vaccinations, including the flu vaccine, eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising.
  • Before traveling overseas, check the U.S. CDC and U.S. State Department websites.

MAINE CDC COVID-19 INFORMATION GRAPHICS

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Maine CDC said it has dedicated dozens of staff to working on COVID-19 preparedness and response, including:

  • Adjusting emergency response protocols to adapt to COVID-19
  • Reviewing readiness plans to ensure state government maintains continuity of operations and services if COVID-19 impacts agency operations
  • Hosting educational webinars for clinicians, infection control staff, and other health care professionals
  • 24-7 consultations with partners such as schools and public health departments to ensure they have information and resources;
  • Working closely with Maine’s health care systems as they scale up preparedness efforts
  • Communicating closely with school officials including recommending that they convene their school safety teams to review and update their emergency operations plans responsive to pandemic flu and reminding schools that their plans should also include provisions to ensure continuity of education in the unlikely event of a closure
  • Ensuring that potential cases will be rapidly identified and investigated and that isolation procedures are in place, if needed
  • Increasing supplies of personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders
  • Updating lab equipment to enable testing for the coronavirus and engaging public health nurses as part of our emergency preparedness team, among other measures

In Washington, six fatalities have already occurred. While the virus has spread more severely there so far, it's worth noting that Washington state has asked people to consider avoiding large crowds.

Such "social distancing" strategies, which also include closing schools, asking employees to telecommute, are designed to slow the curve of people who become ill in order to  buffer the burden on the health care system.

While Washington state has not banned or canceled large events, the state said people should be prepared for that possibility.

The state of Washington has also asked the federal government for its stockpile of medicine, masks, and hospital gowns.

NEWS CENTER Maine is including links to stories that will help keep you informed so you have the facts about COVID-19. 

NEWS CENTER Maine COVID-19 STORIES

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