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Maine CDC Considers Changes To Testing Protocols At Care Facilities

Fifteen more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at three Maine nursing homes. With more cases at other nursing homes expected, Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah says he’s considering a change in testing protocol to try to tamp down future outbreaks.

At his daily press briefing on Tuesday, Shah reported that an additional case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in a staff member at Tall Pines Healthcare in Belfast, for a total of 24 cases among residents and staff. The Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough saw an increase of six cases for a total of 38. And the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation had 8 new cases for a total of 63.

Shah says many of the new cases in these facilities are staff.

“Who perhaps hadn’t worked for a couple of days, and showed up for their first shift Saturday and Sunday, and then those tests got shipped to our laboratory in Augusta,” he says.

The outbreaks at these congregate care facilities have drawn more attention in Maine to how vulnerable they are are to the spread of coronavirus. Shah says he’s considering changing how soon the CDC implements testing for all staff and residents at a particular facility. Right now, that happens after an outbreak of at least three cases has been detected. But Shah says he may lower that threshold.

“I had a pretty long and intense call with our top two medical epidemiologists at the CDC to debate how and when and whether we should move our threshold from three to one,” he says.

Shah says one factor that motivated him to consider lowering the threshold is that other facilities have been able to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after identifying a single case. But before he makes a final decision on whether to expand testing, Shah says he has to consider the state’s limited supply of materials.