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Mills Urges Feds To Release Critical Supplies As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Maine


With another jump in the number of COVID-19 cases reported by the Maine CDC Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills is urging the federal government to provide more testing supplies and personal protection equipment, or PPE, to health care providers.

The governor's letter addresses a shortage of PPE that Maine and other states are experiencing as they attempt to ramp up testing and get an accurate picture of the outbreak that, according to the Maine CDC, has climbed to 52 cases in the state.

In her letter to Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar, Mills says the supply of gowns, masks, gloves and testing agents is so low it could affect the state's readiness to respond to a surge in cases.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah raised the issue in Thursday's press briefing.

"I personally have indicated to the U.S. CDC, as well as to the assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Responses Office, on phone calls that the roll out of personal protective equipment is not as fast as it needs to be," says Shah.

Shah echoed Mills' call for additional distribution from the Strategic National Stockpile, and he says there's an acute need for facemasks.

But there have been reports that the federal government is warning that the National Stockpile supply may not be enough to meet demand. And new guidance from the federal CDC suggests alternatives for health care providers, including the use of homemade masks.

Shah also says he has been unable to obtain more information from the federal government about how President Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that allows the feds to mandate the manufacturing of medical supplies.

"I'm not sure what is in the offing from them, nor do I have a sense of what their ramp-up period would be," he says. "What I can tell you, what we need are personal protective equipment generally, and specifically, these N-95 masks that we've talked about," he says.

The shortage of protective equipment is a problem at InterMed in Portland, according to a statement from the large physician network.

The latest reports from the Maine CDC show the highest concentration of cases in Cumberland County, where Shah says there's evidence of community transmission. There are now COVID-19 cases in nine of Maine's 16 counties. The latest, a confirmed case in Hancock, was reported Thursday.

"I can also report that we have detected two additional cases in individuals who reside at the Oceanview facility in Cumberland County.” The two initial cases of COVID-19 were first identified at the senior living facility in Falmouth Sunday. "We are concerned. However, this is not the same sort of long-term care facility that we saw be an epicenter for cases, say in Seattle, King County. But given the vulnerability of the members, the residents, here we're taking this very seriously."

Shah is urging Mainers to practice social distancing to prevent rapid spread of the coronavirus, and find different ways to connect with friends and family. He also urged younger adults to heed social distancing and other recommendations, citing new data from the federal CDC that indicates high hospitalization rates for that population.

Updated March 19, 2020 at 4:38 p.m. ET.

Patty Wight contributed to this report.