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Maine CDC Investigating COVID-19 Outbreak At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, As Cases Continue To Grow

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public

The Maine Center for Disease Control is reporting an increase of 21 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the total since the pandemic's onset here to 4,962. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 138. One-third of the additional cases reported Thursday are in York County.  That's according to Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, who spoke at a briefing Thursday. Shah said the state has opened investigations into some new outbreaks, including 18 cases diagnosed among workers at the Portmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. Thirteen of those infected are Maine residents, four are from New Hampshire, and one from Massachusetts, he said.

Shah said seven of the Maine cases were found among nine workers who commuted together from Sanford, and at least two cases are among close household contacts of workers. The CDC is working with shipyard officials on more testing at the shipyard, he said.

The CDC is also investigating two cases at the Baker in Sanford, a manufacturing facility, Shah said. Whether that and the shipyard outbreak are related to an outbreak at the York County Jail in nearby Alfred - which has, in turn, been linked to an August 7 wedding and reception in Millinocket - has not yet been determined.

So far, Shah said, a total of 177 cases and seven deaths are now connected to the Millinocket event, including 39 cases and six deaths at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation facility in Madison, located in Somerset County, and, potentially, to 10 cases at the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. Shah said the church cases remain under investigation.

He said the CDC is looking into yet another outbreak of three cases among employees at Buffalo Wild Wings in Auburn. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who joined Shah at the briefing, said COVID-19 is taking a toll of the state's finances, and she's ordered curtailments to help fill a looming $528 million budget gap. Mills said that her administration is freezing vacant positions, delaying technology updates, and cancelling conferences and projects.

"This order avoids deep programmatic cuts," Mills said. "It protects Maine safety net infrastructure and preserves critical public health, public safety, and public education funding."

It also avoids state layoffs and furloughs, Mills said, and preserves the state's multi-million Rainy Day fund.

She said Maine's economy has bounced back by 93%, compared with its performance in early March, citing Moody's Analytics, and unemployment claims have dropped, indicating that the administration's response to the virus is paying off.

"Simply put, we can't have a healthy economy if we don't have healthy people," Mills said. "There are businesses advertising good jobs right now all across the state of Maine, and we want everyone to be employed."

As the weather cools and gatherings move indoors, Mills urged Mainers to continue to be vigilant and follow health and safety guidelines, or an outbreak could "threaten to undo the gains we made, any minute, at the drop of a hat."

Mills and Shah again urged Mainers to get flu shots to avoid the possibility of what Shah has called a "twindemic." Flu shots are available at several community pharmacies and via mobile providers, as well as at primary care facilities, Shah said.

Shah said so far a total of 4,317 Mainers have recovered from COVID-19, an increase of 10 overnight.  That brings the number of active cases in Maine to 507.

A total of 436 Mainers have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. Currently, 12 people are hospitalized, five of them in intensive. No COVID-19 patients are on ventilators.

Overall, Shah said Maine's positivity rate for the virus remains low, at 0.6%, compared with a national rate of 5%.

Updated at 3:07 p.m. September 17, 2020.