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Annual event to be renamed COVID Independence Day to honor Mainers

BANGOR – The Greater Bangor 4th of July Corporation, the non-profit group that organizes the Independence Day festivities for the greater Bangor region, has been monitoring the latest news and meeting with state and local officials for guidance regarding Gov. Janet Mills’ four-phase plan to reopen the state and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s current recommendations.

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Mills to allow retailers and restaurants to open, keeps stay-at-home order in place

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AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced a modification to her four-phase reopening plan. The plan, which will allow retailers to open Monday, May 11, 2020 and restaurants to open a week later on May 18, 2020, will roll out to the 12 counties in Maine where community transmission has not occurred.

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AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers returned to the state capitol Wednesday to hold a hearing with Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman to address the ongoing problems with the state’s unemployment system and the Mills administration’s response to it. Fortman, who appeared along with Deputy Commissioner Kim Smith, spent the entirety of the hearing answering lawmakers’ pointed questions ranging from front-end website issues and denials of unemployment to the inability of Mainers being able to reach a live person.

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AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday extended her stay-at-home order with a new “Stay Safer at Home” executive order until May 31 and released a four-stage plan to begin reopening Maine’s economy starting Friday, May 1.

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State modifies reopening plan for rural counties

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Gov. Mills extends state of emergency, releases plan to reopen Maine

Gov. Janet Mills shuts down more businesses

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

A note from our editor

 

DAILY UPDATE: Current information as of 3 p.m. Saturday, July 11

AUGUSTA - Deaths related to COVID-19 rose by one Saturday to 112 while total cases were up by 21 to 3,520 according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC).

There have been 262 new cases so far in July. If the trend continues, the state will be on target to experience over 700 cases this month based on the first 11 days thus far. In all, there were 949 new cases reported in June, which is more than April's total of 782 yet short of May's record of 1,211 new cases reported in a single month. March remains the lowest month with 342 total cases when tracking began.

No new cases were reported in Penobscot County Saturday, just days after three new cases were reported on Thursday and brought the county's total to 122. The county has experienced 14 new cases since last week. According to the zip code breakdown, three new cases were reported in the Bangor/Hermon area on Wednesday, which brought that zip code's total to 49. Brewer reported an additional case that day as well, bringing the city's total up to seven. Hampden also reported new cases, bringing that zip's total to eight. Before, the town's total was below the six or more threshold for individual reporting. All three remained the same Friday. Aside from those four municipalities along with Medway, which has had a total of 12 cases, all other zip codes in Penobscot County have reported either none or five or less in total.

Taking into account the three deaths that have occurred in Penobscot County and the 103 cases that have since recovered, the county's net active cases dropped to 16 on Friday and stayed the same Saturday. However, that figure is still up from the seven active cases reported just over a week ago. According to Dr. Nirav Shah, director for the Maine CDC, Penobscot County is one of four official "community transmission" counties in the state, meaning a certain ratio of disease transmission is happening from sources that cannot be contact traced. However, the county has not had nearly the amount of growth in new cases as Maine's three other community transmission counties of Cumberland, York and Androscoggin.

Saturday's cumulative figures also showed 368 of all cases required hospitalization or are currently hospitalized - including 21 in Penobscot - and 2,972 have recovered. About 831 cases involve healthcare workers, according to Robert Long, the Maine CDC's communications director. Long said Friday that 725 of those healthcare workers have since recovered, leaving 106 still impacted by COVID-19. Shah said previously that the ratio of healthcare workers testing positive to general infections was expected to rise as the Maine CDC conducts universal testing at the long-term care and congregate settings and with the testing of healthcare workers being a priority in general. Previously the ratio of cases involving heathcare workers was running about the same as the national average of 21 percent; it rose to over 25 percent two weeks ago has remained about the same since then.

While total cumulative cases continued to rise across the state, net active cases - determined by subtracting those who have recovered or died from total cases - dropped again for the fourth consecutive day to 436 on Saturday, down 21 from Friday and sharply from the 527 active cases that began the week on Monday. The drops from Wednesday to Saturday were in contrast to that figure having risen steadily last week, reversing a trend that showed it dropping since the 674 active cases that began June. Active cases had also been showing a steady decline in April until new outbreaks occurred across the state in the beginning of May. In all, over 40 outbreaks have been identified in either congregate or employer settings (see the table below) and Shah attributed most of the case growth in May to those outbreaks.

According to the latest data, seven cases out of the current 16 hospitalizations are in ICUs and four are on ventilators, while nine are hospitalized outside those units. Current hospitalizations have generally remained the same or been showing a steady decrease the past few weeks, although that figure rose last week to 30 before dropping every day this week since Monday. On Wednesday, that figure was 22.

 

About 113,562 PCR (active RNA swab) tests and 7,526 antibody tests have tested negative, while 365 antibody tests have tested positive as of Thursday. Including those tests that were deemed indeterminate, 125,917 tests have been conducted across the state as of July 10.

 

Shah reported previously that the outbreaks at Durgin Pines, Cianbro, Maine Veterans Home, The Hope House, Edgewood Rehab, Oxford Street Shelter, Tall Pines and the Augusta Center for Rehabilitation were deemed closed by the Maine CDC. In all cases, the facilities met the 15-day window with no new cases to be deemed closed. On Wednesday, he added Cape Memory Care to that list.

 

The past few weeks, Shah has reported new outbreaks at Montello Manor in Lewiston, Serenity Residential Care in Gorham, Support Solutions in Auburn, Abbott Laboratories in Scarborough, Nichols Manufacturing in Portland, Sedgewood Commons nursing home in Falmouth, and Bath Iron Works. On Wednesday, he reported a new outbreak with six new cases at Pratt & Whitney in Berwick.

 

Below is a breakdown of Maine's outbreaks:

 

Open and closed outbreaks in Maine

Residents

Staff

Deaths

Total

100 State Street - Portland

20

0

0

20

Abbott Laboratories - Scarborough

0

29

0

29

Augusta Center for Rehabilitation

48

28

8

76

Barron Center - Portland

1

3

0

4

Bath Iron Works - Bath

0

3

0

3

Birchwoods at Canco - Portland

0

6

0

6

Bluestar Homecare - Biddeford

1

4

0

5

Bristol Seafood - Portland

0

19

0

19

Brook House

6

10

0

16

Cape Memory Care - Cape Elizabeth

62

23

6

85

Cape Seafood - Saco

0

8

0

8

Cianbro Construction

0

29

0

29

Clover Health Care - Auburn

5

20

0

25

Coastal Community Care Maple - Lewiston

2

2

0

3

Creative Works - Westbrook

4

4

0

8

Durgin Pines - Kittery

2

4

0

6

Easy Care Residential - Portland

6

0

0

6

Edgewood Rehab - Farmington

17

6

1

23

Eldredge Lumber Yard - York

0

13

0

13

Falmouth by the Sea - Falmouth

48

28

4

76

Family Shelter - Portland

16

0

0

16

Granite Bay Care - Seven sites in total

20

12

0

32

Hope House - Bangor

18

4

0

22

Houlton Ambulance Service - Houlton

0

11

0

11

John F. Murphy Home - Auburn

12

0

0

12

Landry French Construction

0

6

0

6

Maine Vets Home - Scarborough

34

29

14

63

Maple House - Spurwink

1

6

0

7

Milestone Recovery - Portland

2

3

0

5

Montello Manor - Lewiston

2

1

0

3

Nichols Manufacturing - Portland

0

9

0

9

Oxford Street Shelter - Portland

12

3

0

15

Port Resources - South Portland

7

5

0

12

Pratt & Whitney - Berwick

0

6

0

6

Proctor and Gamble - Auburn

0

13

0

13

Residential Community Support Services - Biddeford

1

3

0

4

Seal Rock - Saco

1

3

0

4

Sedgewood Commons - Falmouth

32

13

0

45

Serenity Residential Care - Gorham

5

0

0

5

Springbrook Center - Westbrook

38

20

8

58

Support Solutions - Auburn

4

0

0

4

Tall Pines - Belfast

32

11

13

43

The Cedars - Portland

12

6

4

18

Tyson Foods - Portland

0

55

0

55

Ubuntu Care Center - Lewiston

0

4

0

4

Woodfords Family Services - South Portland

2

1

0

3

Total

473

463

58

936

(data courtesy of Maine CDC)

 

Most reported outbreaks have largely been unchanged. Overall, 58 of the 105 deaths in Maine - or 57 percent - involve residents from those facilities. 

 

According to Shah, three of the four counties designated as community transmission counties - Cumberland, York and Androscoggin - continue to see growth in cases but have leveled off to the point where Gov. Janet Mills declared two weeks ago that those counties could begin indoor seating at restaurants, and gyms and nail salons could open. However, bars without outdoor seating, nightclubs and casinos remain closed across the state.

 

Cumberland County remains the hardest hit across the state with a total of 1,861 confirmed cases, followed by York with 570 and Androscoggin at 501. Those three counties have accounted for the majority of the case growth the past few weeks. Although not designated a community transmission county, Kennebec County has been the fourth hardest hit with 146 cases due to outbreaks in congregate or LTC settings. With a new case reported this week in Piscataquis County, all counties across Maine have at least one active case.

 

Nationally, there are now over 3.215 million cases across the U.S., which was up sharply by about 65,000 from Friday, and the death toll Friday rose by 653 from Friday's figure to 134,430, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The country has experienced one of its highest weeks in case growth with new outbreaks experienced in South Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, California and Texas, which has forced some governors to halt opening up the economy to help stem the growth. According to national reports, most of that growth has been in healthier younger people and although new cases have risen sharply, the mortality rate across the nation has actually been dropping since the pandemic began.

 

Worldwide, infections have now topped 12.57 million with 561,879 deaths. The U.S. has previously been a major contributor to the growth in both cases and deaths as testing efforts have expanded markedly across the country, although the latter as a percentage has been dropping. Recently, however, Brazil, Peru, Chile and other places in the southern hemisphere are reporting sharp spikes as those countries head into autumn. Brazil alone accounts for over 1.8 million cases - that figure is up by over 1.03 million in the past 20 days alone, and is second only to the U.S. The third largest case count now belongs to India, which overtook Russia's total cases over the weekend. In most cases, the majority of those countries' cases have occured within the last month.

 

U.S. officials believe China, where the virus orginated and of which its existence was reportedly kept secret from the world for weeks and likely resulted in the pandemic's current severity, continues to report numbers that remain suspect, according to national reports.

 

Other major developments (by day):

 

July 1

Gov. Janet Mills announced during Wednesday’s Maine CDC press briefing that visitors from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey will be exempted from the 14-day quarantine requirement or negative COVID-19 testing alternative. Mills said the change will be effective Friday, July 3.

 

Mills said the decision to add those states to the exemption that already includes Vermont and New Hampshire comes after review of those states’ public health data measurements including the prevalence of the virus and the positivity rates in those other states. In reviewing the metrics, Mills said Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey had lower positive rates than Maine’s and the prevalence of the virus in those states is similar and continues a downward trend.

 

Additionally, Mills said she will be issuing an executive order requiring Maine’s large retail stores, lodging establishments, restaurants, and outdoor bars and tasting rooms in Maine’s coastal counties and in the more populous cities of Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston and Auburn to enforce the state’s face covering requirement. In the last week, states across the country, such as North Carolina, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon, have implemented similar strong measures related to face coverings, given the evidence that masks significantly reduce transmission of the virus.

 

The coastal counties include Hancock, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Cumberland and York.

 

June 22

Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner for the Department of Health and Human Services, said during the Maine CDC's press briefing that the Mills administration will postpone reopening indoor bar service for bars and bar areas of restaurants across the state. Originally scheduled to reopen July 1, Lambrew cited data from ongoing outbreaks traced to bars in Texas, Louisiana, Idaho and Florida and the fact that bar settings are problematic since spaces are smaller where patrons can't socially distance or wear masks due the traditional nature of bar settings.

 

May 27

Gov. Janet Mills announced restuarants in Androscoggin, Cumberland and York counties will remained closed to dine-in service as Stage 2 of Maine's reopening plan takes effect June 1. Stage 2 involves reopening retail outlets, restaurants, fitness and excercise centers, nail technicians, lodging, campgrounds and children's day camps for Maine residents and those who have met the 14-day quarantine requirement, and coastal state parks.

 

Previously, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said gyms and nail salons across the state would not be permitted to reopen June 1 due to COVID-19 transmission concerns observed in other states where they have reopened. Mills added restaurants to that delay Wednesday for the three community transmission counties due to continued case growth of COVID-19, while taking Penobscot County off that list since the county has only had an average of three cases a day since April.

 

"I know this is not welcome news for those restaurants who have been preparing to fully reopen next week," Mills said Wednesday. "It is our hope that by reopening for outdoor dining and curbside pickup and take out, we can still protect the public health and perhaps lessen the economic hardship that these businesses are are enduring."

 

May 18

Mills and Shah announced that the new IDEXX PCR testing machines were up and running and the state's Health and Environmental Lab (HETL) now has the capacity to process up to 1,000 tests per day on the new equipment. Correspondingly, Mills announced the testing priorities and tiers that were in place were recinded and new guidelines were established, including testing specimens from any person who has one or more symptoms, and testing those who are asymptomatic but may be at risk of speading COVID-19 to others. 

 

May 15

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin announced that her department has secured internet access and devices for all of Maine's children who were in need of it to complete their learning. Of the 21,845 students statewide lacking connectivity, based on data from the 75 percent of schools that responded, 14,494 students needed a wireless contract and 7,351 students needed only a device in order to have equitable access to online learning opportunities.

 

Through a combined effort with the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, ConnectME, and business and philanthropic entities, the Maine Department of Education (Maine DOE) has acquired 14,494 service contracts through three different service providers, nearly all of which are for WiFi-enabled Samsung Galaxy Tablets that can be used as learning tools and hotspots or hotspots only. Through one of the service providers, DOE was also able to order MiFi, a wireless router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot, to fulfill internet-only needs. To fulfill the device only needs, Maine DOE was able to order 7,450 Chromebooks.

 

Shah said the state has received another seven cases of Remdesivir, the antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences that has shown some success in treating the symptoms of the virus. This is in addition to the 10 cases Shah said the state received earlier in the week. The intravenous drug has already been shipped to hospitals across the state. 

 

May 14

Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson said Thursday that the lodging industry can now begin taking reservations for in-state residents and those who have already traveled to Maine and satisfied the 14-day quarantine to begin lodging as of June 1. The restrictions for taking reservations for out-of-state travelers remains in place as the date those travelers can come to the state is currently set for July 1. 

 

May 13

Mills signed an order Wednesday extending Maine’s state of civil emergency for thirty days through June 11, 2020. It was Mills' second extension of the State of Civil Emergency and, by doing so, Mills said it gives her more time to access federal disaster and pandemic funding and allows her to continue using certain powers to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The new order is distinct from the Governor’s Executive Orders and from the Restarting Maine’s Economy plan. The Governor’s Executive Orders and the Restarting Maine’s Economy plan remain in effect and unchanged.

 

May 8

Mills announced Friday modified reopening plans for Maine's 12 rural counties that have not been deemed community transmission counties by the Maine CDC. She said Stage 1 restrictions will still be in place in the remaining four that have been deemed counties where community transmission are still occuring. She added that her "Stay Safer at Home" executive order will remain in place for the entire state.

 

May 7

Mills announced that the state has entered into a partnership with Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook, Maine that will triple Maine's testing capacity, which may affect the plan to reopen as testing ramps up.

 

May 5

Shah provided an update about antibody testing, a milestone epidemiologists state will aid in reopening and determine what the true infection rate is among the population. He said there are a lot of questions surrounding the testing, and even more questions about the reliability of tests that are currently available.

 

"Right now, there are a lot of different tests that are on the market for antibody testing. Some of them are very good, others of them are lacking," Shah said. "In fact, some of the ones that are out there right now in the United States haven't even received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration."

 

He added that some of the tests have been studied and the numbers have been disturbing, comparing their reliability to a coin toss.

 

"Given the number of different tests that are out there, it's really difficult to know whether the test that you might be getting is one of the really good ones or whether it's more akin to a coin flip," he said.

 

April 28

Mills announced her "Stay Safer at Home" executive order, extending the state of emergency until May 31. In doing so, she rolled out her four-stage plan to reopen Maine's economy, which in all respects has been decimated by the shutdowns. 

 

April 16

Mills issued an order that bars landlords from evicting their tenants during the pandemic. She also announced a new $5 million relief fund that would grant one-time $500 payments for eligible tenants who cannot pay their rent due to income loss.

 

"We are limiting evictions during this state of emergency," she said. "The order that I signed applies to commerical ventures as well as small businesses and homes and rental apartments."

 

Mills said the order strengthens penalties for landlords and property owners who try to evict someone unlawfully, especially since courts and the eviction process are essentially closed. In addressing mortgages and foreclosures, she added that while the federal CARES act put a moratorium on forclosures for federally-backed loans, she reached out to Maine-based banks and credit unions to do the same.

 

"I am urging them in the strongest terms to avoid initiating residential and commercial foreclosures and to pause any foreclosures that may be in progress," she said. "I'm urging them to refrain from mailing notices to cure to Maine residences and Maine businesses as long as this moratorium is in effect." 

 

April 3

Mills ordered the closure of all hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns and short-term rentals and put in place the requirement that all travelers arriving in Maine self-quarantine for 14 days. The order is still in effect with lodging able to open to Maine residents June 1 as part of stage 2, and out-of-state tourists on July 1 as part of stage 3, provided they self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Some lodging remained open to house essential healthcareand, utility and other workers.

Mills also previously moved the primary election to July 14.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and lower respiratory distress. Individuals who exhibit those symptoms are advised to contact medical providers before going to a health care facility. Medical providers will make initial determinations about who should be tested.

The Mills Administration announced today that it is exempting visitors from the States of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey from the 14-day quarantine requirement or negative COVID-19 testing alternative, effective this Friday, July 3, 2020. 

 

The decision comes after the Administration reviewed public health data in other states to determine the appropriateness of additional exemptions, like those previously extended to New Hampshire and Vermont. In evaluating these exemptions, the Administration takes into consideration several data measurements, which include but are not limited to, the prevalence of the virus and the positivity rates in other states. In reviewing these metrics, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, for example, demonstrate a lower positive rate than Maine’s. Additionally, the prevalence of the virus in these states is similar and continues a downward trend.

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A note from our editor

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

Covid-19 Daily Update: Maine deaths now reach three

AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills elevated her previous state of emergency Tuesday and ordered all non-essential public-facing businesses such as gyms, hair salons, theaters, shopping malls and others to close at midnight Wednesday, March 25. The order is in effect for the next 14 days until April 8.

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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.

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