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State CDC Limits COVID-19 Investigations As Maine Adds 427 Cases

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A man wears a face covering to help prevent the spread of coronavirus while walking on Congress St., Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Portland, Maine.

As a soaring COVID-19 caseload continues to stress the resources of the Maine Center for Disease Control, the agency announced on Monday that it’s further reducing case investigations and contact tracing to focus on people who are more vulnerable to the disease or at higher risk of spreading it.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in Maine, the state CDC has notified people with positive test results and helped them reach others with whom they may have come in contact.

But CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says a “surge upon a surge” of cases is straining the agency’s ability to conduct those investigations while simultaneously ensuring that the state’s daily case counts are accurate.

“And just like in any emergency room, we have to take our available resources to make sure we are surviving the highest need at their greatest moment of need,” he says.

That means that the CDC will now only conduct case investigations for vulnerable groups, such as people who are 65 or older, 18 or younger, are already hospitalized or who have a disability.

The agency will also investigate cases associated with health care workers, first responders and people who work in congregate care settings such as nursing homes.

But Shah says the rest of the people who test positive will now only receive a call from someone at the Department of Health Human Services with care and counseling information.

He also says those same people are now being asked to do what the CDC has done up until now.

“And we are asking you to help us make sure that you can notify your close contacts as soon possible, so that they too can quarantine for 10 days,” Shah says.

The Maine CDC has attempted to beef up its contact tracing workforce and currently has 135 people conducting investigations. But the explosion in cases — including a single-day record of 427 reported Monday — has outpaced those efforts.

Last week, the agency foreshadowed a scaling back of contact tracing when it announced that it would no longer stay in touch with people who test positive for the disease beyond their first contact with state investigators unless they were tied to outbreaks.

Now, those outside the high-risk category may not hear from an investigator at all, but instead receive a call from the DHHS call center, which has been repurposed.

Shah says 40-60 percent of state’s daily cases fall within the high risk category.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized on Monday is 170. Fifty-two are in critical care and 17 are on ventilators.

Reported deaths from the disease in Maine remain unchanged since Saturday, at 227.

And the MaineHealth system is scaling back some elective surgeries in order to handle the surge and divert staff toward COVID-19 patients.

This story was originally published at 8:54 a.m. Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.