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Maine Now Has 107 Cases Of COVID-19. But Maine's CDC Director Says The Number Is Likely Outdated

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Steve Mistler
/
Maine Public

Updated March 23, 2020 at 3:58 p.m. ET.

The Maine Center for Disease is reporting 107 cases of COVID-19 across Maine, an increase of 18 cases since just Sunday.

CDC Director Nirav Shah told reporters at Monday’s daily briefing that 12 people are hospitalized and that cases have now been recorded in nine of Maine’s 16 counties. But because of persistent delays in testing and other factors, he’s urging Mainers to act as if the virus is already in their communities.

For more than a week, Dr. Shah has used an analogy to put the daily COVID-19 case update into perspective.

“It’s like watching a live news broadcast that was actually recorded four or six days ago,” he says. “We are now seeing the effects of exposure from several days ago.”

That lag, Shah says, is because of the incubation period of COVID-19, the time between exposure to the virus and exhibiting symptoms. That means that the number of cases the CDC is reporting now doesn’t reflect the expansiveness of the outbreak.

Shah says for that reason, Mainers should live as if the disease is already in their community.

“I also ask everyone to live their life as if you yourself were to have the disease,” he says.

Shah’s advice is designed to keep Mainers vigilant about social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large crowds. It comes at a time when Maine and other states are grappling with an outbreak that threatens to overwhelm health care providers and is already creating a backlog in test results.

That backlog is a problem at the Maine CDC, which is dealing with a shortage of a reagent that’s used to complete the COVID-19 tests.

Shah says the CDC is prioritizing higher-risk patients.

.{“As a result of this focus on higher-risk groups, we recognize that folks across Maine are waiting for results,” he says.

Shah was unable to quantify the testing backlog during Monday’s briefing.

The delay isn’t just creating anxiety among people awaiting results, it’s also contributing to an incomplete picture of the outbreak, while also raising questions about whether Maine should act more aggressively in instituting stay-at-home orders.

As of Monday afternoon, 10 states have, including Massachusetts.

Shah says some of those states have much denser population than rural Maine, but he did say that there have been preliminary discussions about regional shutdown orders in some of the state’s more populated areas such as Cumberland County, which at 66 known cases, continues to be hardest hit.