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Coronavirus precautions in Maine hospitals, schools

On Tuesday, March 10, the Maine CDC announced that 20 people tested negatively for COVID-19, leaving Maine the only coronavirus-free state in New England.

MAINE, USA — There are no confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in our state, according to the first round of tests done by the Maine CDC -- but health officials say they are still preparing.

On Tuesday, March 10, the Maine CDC announced that 20 people had tested negatively for COVID-19, with less than 10 people's results still pending. So far, the coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries, and in the U.S., 35 states have reported more than 400 cases so far.

RELATED: Everything Mainers need to know about the coronavirus

Maine is the only state in New England at this point that hasn't seen any confirmed cases of COVID-19, but precautions are still being taken at hospitals and schools around the state.

James Jarvis, the Senior Vice President and Senior Physician Executive of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, says he does expect to see cases of coronavirus appear in our state, since Maine is so close to states that have already had outbreaks.

As a precautionary measure, hospital staff members are taking measures similar to those taken during flu season, by screening patients for respiratory symptoms and requiring that those who are sneezing or coughing wear a mask. 

Additionally, hospital staff are using masks and equipment they normally may not use for flu precautions to protect themselves and other patients.

Jarvis says that across the state, the Northern Light Health system has set up incident command to prepare for any possible scenarios. In the Bangor region, Northern Light EMMC is partnering with St. Joseph Hospital and Penobscot Community Health Care.

"Right now, (we're) running exercises and scenarios to say, 'What if we had 20 more patients that needed our care?', 'What if we needed forty more beds?', 'What would we need to do to be prepared to be able to handle that kind of patient load, and where would we put our current patients?'," Jarvis explained to NEWS CENTER Maine. "Having those discussions beforehand allows us to actually act very quickly when we actually run into a real life scenario..."

RELATED: Coronavirus not expected to impact summer tourism

In Orono, the University of Maine is also taking precautions, as the week of spring break (March 16-22) approaches. The school system is asking students, faculty, and staff not to travel to infected areas if they don't need to and is opening up residence and dining halls at no additional charge to students for the week.

This comes after the university already announced its decision to prohibit all university-sponsored, non-essential air travel. 

"Right now, we're keeping people in place," Dean Robert Dana, the Vice President for Student Life at the University of Maine, told NEWS CENTER Maine. "We're having them live and learn here. We're going to attend to their needs, and if things were to change globally, locally, nationally -- we'd change with it."

RELATED: UMaine system encourages students to stay on campus over spring break
RELATED: Bowdoin College NCAA women's basketball tournament not allowing fans during games

Health officials say the main concern about this strain of coronavirus is that it is very new, so there is no preventative medicine (like a vaccine) available to curb it or to lessen symptoms for patients.

Researchers have found that children with the virus have mild to no symptoms, while COVID-19 can hit older people and people with chronic health conditions pretty hard, causing pneumonia or sometimes death. 

The best things people can do to stay healthy are:

  • washing their hands for 40 seconds or longer
  • using hand-sanitizer
  • cleaning shared surfaces, like phones or laptop keyboards
  • maintaining a social distance of six feet