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Governor extends state of emergency as CDC battles coronavirus in nursing homes

“I sure wish this weren’t necessary,” Mills said Tuesday. “But the continued spread of this deadly virus demands our sustained response.”

AUGUSTA, Maine — Governor Janet Mills says it's not the time to ease off on restrictions to block the spread of COVID-19. That’s why she announced Tuesday a proclamation to extend the current “state of civil emergency” for another 30 days.

“I sure wish this weren’t necessary,” Mills said at the daily CDC briefing. “But the continued spread of this deadly virus demands our sustained response.”

The initial declaration of a state of civil emergency is due to expire on Wednesday. Mills said the proclamation continues until May 15. Her current Stay Safe at Home order, issued separately, will expire Aprile 30, but the governor said she will decide in the next two weeks whether it, too, should be extended. 

The announcement came ion the same day Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said more new cases had been diagnosed at two nursing home facilities that are already the focus of major concern by the CDC.

The Tall Pines facility in Belfast continues to have a total of 24 cases of the COVID-19 virus, while the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough now is reporting 38 total cases - six more than Monday. The Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation is now reporting 63 total cases, both patients and staff. That’s eight more cases than reported Monday.

Dr. Shah said the CDC is working closely with those homes to ensure they have adequate supplies of protective equipment for staff, and that they are following all the necessary guidelines to lower the risk of further spread, including putting patients who test positive in a different part of the building from those who test negative. 

All the patients and staff at those three facilities were ordered to be tested, once the homes recorded three cases, the threshold to declare an outbreak. Dr. Shah said Tuesday he and others at the CDC are debating whether that universal testing threshold should be changed, to require testing in long term care facilities after just one case is reported. 

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"The reason we started there (at three cases) is, although we are aware of three facilities with outbreaks and anticipate more, we are also aware of other facilities with one case but it did not expand into an outbreak, which is testament to the fact Rapid action can stop one case from turning into more cases."

Shah said no decisions have yet been made about lowering the testing threshold, but the debate is continuing within the CDC. He also said that discussions with other states show Maine practice for universal testing in those facilities is more aggressive than many other states.

Also on Tuesday, the CDC and Maine DHHS stated that plans to set up two alternative medical sites in Portland and Bangor have been put on hold. The Maine National Guard has been ready to set up a 100-bed facility at the Cross Arena in Portland and a 50-bed facility in the Cross Center in Bangor. 

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew joined Dr. Shah Tuesday, saying that Maine currently has a significant number of available hospital beds to handle a surge in patients, and, since those hospitals e a preferred for treating anyone with COVID-19, they will wait before actually having the Guard “stand up” the alternative care sites. Lambrew said all the plans for those sites are complete and ready to go in case the situation becomes significantly worse.

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

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