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Maine DHHS buys 1 million COVID-19 tests to distribute

Of the 1 million, 250,000 were immediately given to childcare facilities so families can test regularly.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's Department of Health and Human Services is seeking ways to keep families with childcare needs stable if COVID-19 cases were to spike again.

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew announced Wednesday her department had purchased 1 million over-the-counter COVID tests, manufactured by the company Siemens. 

From that purchase, 250,000 will immediately go to childcare facilities to give to families, as part of a so-called "test to stay" program, Lambrew said. 

Kids who are close contacts can be tested regularly and stay in school.

"If a child is a close contact [with someone who tests positive], but a parent gives that child a test every other day, that child can go to childcare rather than be in quarantine, which we know will help minimize job disruption for employers, as well as workers. But, we also want to be prepared for the long run," she said Thursday in an interview.

As of Thursday, Maine is in a stable place with the virus. Wednesday's positivity rate stood at 3.3 percent, with a seven-day average of 3.9 percent. 

Meanwhile, nearly half of all European countries have seen spikes in cases over the past week. Trends in Europe have previously been an indicator of what's coming to the U.S., but for now, cases here in Maine are still down.

Dr. Dora Mills of MaineHealth spoke to NEWS CENTER Maine about where the state stood as Mainers celebrated St. Partrick's Day out in widespread public gatherings for the first time in two years.

"It doesn't look right now like the surges going on in Europe are nearly as bad as it was there in the winter," Mills said. "So, even if we do see an uptick this spring, it's unlikely, from what can tell right now, it's unlikely to be nearly as bad."

Mills encouraged Mainers to enjoy themselves while positive cases remained rare.

"We do have this time right now that's a lull, so go out and enjoy yourself with friends and family," she continued. "But just know if the rates go up, we've got masks, we've got vaccines, we've got treatment. We've got a lot of tools that we didn't have – many, many tools we didn't have two years ago on St. Patrick's Day."

In a separate move, DHHS is continuing its investment in a pilot program, called Project Access COVID-19 Tests (ACT), that will make 300,000 additional tests available to Mainers by mail.

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