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Lockdown: Life in Maine grinds to a halt amid COVID-19 concerns

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A sign and note to patrons adorn the door of Paddy Murphy’s in Downtown Bangor on Monday, March 16. The Irish pub announced it had closed until further notice, a day before the typically busy St. Patrick’s Day. While some restaurants and stores have already closed downtown, more may do so as business declines during the COVID-19 pandemic.  A sign and note to patrons adorn the door of Paddy Murphy’s in Downtown Bangor on Monday, March 16. The Irish pub announced it had closed until further notice, a day before the typically busy St. Patrick’s Day. While some restaurants and stores have already closed downtown, more may do so as business declines during the COVID-19 pandemic. (edge photo by Mike Fern)

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A note from our editor

COVID-19 Update: Maine records first COVID-19 death

AUGUSTA – Maine Governor Janet Mills declared a state of emergency on March 15 in an effort to combat the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

In making the emergency declaration Sunday, which Mills also noted was Maine’s bicentennial as it entered statehood 200 years ago, she recommended ending all classroom instruction as soon as possible; postponing all non-urgent medical procedures, elective surgeries and appointments; restricting visitors and all non-essential health care personnel to long-term care facilities except for certain compassionate care situations such as end of life until further notice; and postponing all events with 50 or more people and all gatherings of more than 10 that include individuals who are at high risk for severe illness, such as seniors, until further notice.

“With several new presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Maine, it is important that we prepare and respond – but not panic. The Maine CDC has prepared for this eventuality since last year and we are coordinating across government and with communities statewide to respond to this threat,” Mills said. “Proclaiming a state of civil emergency unleashes critical state authorities and allows access to federal funds that will support our response efforts to delay and mitigate the outbreak in Maine. These new recommendations will also further protect Maine people.”

The coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic March 11, has now infected nearly 180,000 people worldwide and has resulted in over 7,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. For the U.S., nearly every state and the District of Columbia has reported at least one case, and Maine joined that sobering statistic when the Maine CDC announced its first case last Thursday. In all, there have been 3,000 infections nationwide and 68 deaths linked to COVID-19.

According to Robert Long, a spokesman for Maine’s Department of Heath and Human Services, Maine’s HETL has now been certified by the U.S. CDC to make the call in confirming cases without sending the samples to the national center.

“As of today, U.S. CDC no longer requires HETL to send samples from presumptive positive tests to the federal lab for confirmation. Moving forward, samples that test positive at HETL will be classified as confirmed cases,” Long said Sunday in a press release. “Cases previously classified as presumptive positive have now been reclassified as confirmed cases, based on the U.S. CDC’s confidence in Maine CDC’s testing protocols. Tests conducted at outside labs that were previously classified as preliminary presumptive positive will now be identified as presumptive positive tests as they await confirmation.”

While the state governors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have ordered a shutdown of bars, restaurants and movie theaters, Mills said that she was not going to do that.

“I think there has been a great deal of compliance with our recommendations so far and I don’t see the need to order such actions when people are listening to recommendations and doing what they should be doing,” Mills said in the press conference she held Sunday night.

While Mills made the recommendation to close schools on Sunday, several local school districts made the call to shut down just hours earlier. MDI said early Saturday that its schools would close for two weeks. Hours later, John Bapst announced that its school would be closed until April 27. Bangor’s school department followed suit and announced Saturday night that it would close for two weeks. The Brewer School Department sent a message to parents and students Sunday that it would close down for two weeks.

And businesses are undoubtedly feeling the effects as well. In addition to canceling numerous shows and events, the Cross Insurance Center posted on their website that the entire facility will be closed until further notice. Paddy Murphy’s in Downtown Bangor was closed and had on its door announcing their plan to celebrate a belated St. Patrick’s Day at a future date. The Rock and Art Shop is closed, as is Tea and Tarts. Yet Bagel Central, which closed early at 3 p.m. Monday as business was down, will stay open – for now.

“We opened at 6 a.m. By 9, we had only 15 customers,” Scott Bryson, Bagel Central’s owner, said of his decision to close early for the day. “We sent half our staff home before lunch.”

Bryson added that he is worried for his 37 employees, so he’s working with the city to designate a few parking spots for curbside pickup and push his delivery service. Still, with recommendations by the federal and state governments changing almost daily, he said he may eventually be forced to close temporarily and wait it out.

“This is uncharted waters,” he said.

In fact, Portland’s city manager, Jon Jennings, announced a civil state of emergency Monday in a proclamation on the city’s website that a mandatory curfew went into effect for Tuesday’s planned St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, which effectively shut down all “restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, dance clubs, music venues and any other establishment where individuals gather in groups or are in close contact with one another” in the city. The proclamation also noted that a secondary curfew from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. would go into effect for March 18 and thereafter for those same types of businesses.

Bangor followed suit Monday night, although not suspending daytime festivities for St. Patrick’s since Geaghan’s and Paddy Murphy’s already announced their temporary closures.

“We are really proud of our business community and the fact that many have already made the very difficult decision to close,” said Catherine Conlow, Bangor’s city manager. “This decision is made in the interest of public health.”

Conlow added that President Donald Trump and the CDC issued new guidelines Monday recommending limiting social gatherings of 10 or more people, and she said the declaration will be in effect for the next five days as allowed by Maine statute.

Some municipal offices are closed as well. Brewer City Manager Steve Bost and the city’s Public Safety Director Jason Moffit sent an e-mail Monday that city offices would be locked and inaccessible to the public until further notice beginning Tuesday, March 17. Bangor City Council’s sub-committee meetings have been cancelled for the week and while city hall was still open through Tuesday, city officials announced late Monday that it would be closed to the public starting today. Both municipalities encouraged residents to utilize city services online.

For most people, the virus has caused only mild or moderate symptoms – a fever, runny nose and cough – and they recover in a couple of weeks. However, the risk of severe illness for older adults and those with preexisting health conditions is the greatest threat the virus poses, and that is exactly what has federal, state and local governments worried. With a median age of 44.2 years, Maine is the oldest state in the nation and the risk of having a more severe illness from COVID-19 increases the older you are. And those with preexisting health conditions (regardless of age) are also the most affected by it. According to the CDC, much of the data from China regarding hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19 occurred in those over 65 and those with conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Last modified on Saturday, 28 March 2020 12:48
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