AUGUSTA, Maine — As the number of coronavirus cases in Maine continues to increase, the Maine CDC announced Wednesday one of the new positive tests shows a staff member at the Lewiston DHHS office has the virus.
CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah announced the case at the daily briefing. He said CDC epidemiologists were already investigating the case, talking with the individual and determining how many other staff members might have had close contact. DHHS officials said the staff member did not go into clients’ homes, and their job involved minimal contact with the public.
“Our top priority is safety and health,” said Dr. Shah, “So commissioner Lambrew made the decision out of an abundance of caution to close the office.”
The Lewiston field office is one of 15 DHHS offices around the state, which Lambrew said had previously taken steps to have most of the public contact done by phone or online so that roughly 60 percent of the staff could work from home during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have cut back traffic on people coming into office significantly and are contemplating additional measures,” Lambrew told the briefing..
Dr. Shah acknowledged the growing number of cases, saying for the people doing infectious disease work its not a surprise.
And while the flu is still infecting people and still putting them in the hospital in greater numbers, the CDC director emphasized that COVID-19 is really far more serious public health threat.
“I think anyone can look at the experience in Maine and New York City to see how rapidly It can spread,” said Dr. Shah.
“The other axis is how many may die?”
That potential for being fatal, as is happening in many other places, is what he says sets COVID-19 apart.
“According to the best available statistics, COVID 19 maybe 5 to 20 times more fatal than the flu. Epidemiologists around the world trying to figure out if it’s the lower or the higher number, but whichever number it is, it's more concerning.”
He says the timing of this new virus is hitting hospitals at a time when they are already dealing with cases of the flu, increasing the strain on Maine’s health care system. And Dr. Shah says he has no doubt the number of cases will keep climbing.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus