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Maine DHHS Announces New 'Swab And Send' Testing Sites, Public Health Funding

Jeff Roberson
Ap Images
Vials containing nasal swabs collected at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site are dropped into a plastic bag to be sent off for processing after being collected Thursday, April 16, 2020, in St. Louis.

The Mills administration Tuesday announced new measures the state is taking to expand COVID-19 testing capacity and increase safety measures in Maine.

At a press briefing Tuesday, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said that the state is opening four new Swab and Send testing sites at the Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, York County Community Action Corporation/Nasson Health Care in Sanford, and in the city of Westbrook. Testing at the sites will be free for people considered  under a standing order from the state to be at elevated risk, including those who believe they have COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus.

Lambrew also said the state is making $1 million in federal funding available for 25 rural Maine hospitals, which the hospitals can use to expand testing capacity and for other needs, such as purchasing equipment and training staff.

"Rural Maine has particular challenges in access," Lambrew said. "We want to make sure that we are not just providing these 'swab and send sites' for COVID-19 testing, but providing hospitals in rural Maine with additional supports so they can do testing themselves."

And the state is making a second round of grants, totaling $4 million, available for Maine municipalities as a part of the “Keep Maine Healthy” plan, which is intended to support public health and education measures related to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported an additional death associated with COVID-19, a man in his 70s from Cumberland County. This brings the total number of Maine deaths to 118. The Center also reported 12 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 3,723. There are currently 414 active cases in the state. 

CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shahsaid that 120 visitors from other states have tested positive for COVID-19 in Maine since March.

"Those include states like New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts."

He said that a total of 57 Mainers have tested positive while visiting other states.

At the briefing, Shah said there was a confirmed outbreak at the Walmart in Presque Isle, where three employees at the store tested positive for COVID-19. Shah said the CDC opened the investigation Tuesday morning, and the Center is working with the store to determine where the transmission occurred. Shah said the agency is still determining whether the outbreak originated at the work site, who needs to be tested and "...what kind of infection prevention measures can be put into place to prevent other staff as well as shoppers from getting infected going forward."

Also at the Tuesday briefing, Shah said that around 19 campers at a Maine summer camp had previously tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, using an antigen test that was administered at the camp. 

"This is a different type of testing than the testing that our laboratory here in Augusta performs.  Antigen testing can get you results a little bit more quickly.  But sometimes the results can be a little less accurate."

Upon further testing, the CDC determined that the campers had not contracted the disease. The state CDC is working with the federal offices to determine if there was a problem with the testing device. The CDC is not releasing the name of the camp, since they say it does not pose a public health concern.

The change in the number of positive cases will be reflected in the information on the Maine CDC website Wednesday morning.

Patty Wight contributed to this report.

Updated 5:11 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

Caitlin Troutman is the Digital News and Content Producer for Maine Public. Caitlin worked as a writer and editor for various publications before discovering her love for public media at KCUR in Kansas City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Critical Theory from the Oxbridge Honors Program at William Jewell College and the University of Oxford. She joined Maine Public in 2018.