What Mainers Need To Know About The Coronavirus

May 30, 2020

Maine Public is committed to keeping you informed with reliable news around the new coronavirus. Here you can find information and resources on the virus and the disease known as COVID-19 — how it arose and spread, recommendations on how to best protect yourself, and other information Mainers might find useful. This guide will be updated periodically.

For the latest developments and news, check out Maine Public's live blog.

For an archive of Maine CDC daily briefing videos, click here.

Last update: 11:10 a.m. May 30, 2020.

How is the government responding?

Gov. Mills Declares Civil Emergency As Coronavirus Cases Rise In Maine
Credit Mal Leary / Maine Public

On the state level, Gov. Janet Mills has issued a stay-at-home order for all Maine residents and visitors through the end of April. The mandate imposes strict restrictions on Maine business operations and travel for workers labeled essential. In-classroom instruction also has been required to close until at least May 1.

On Friday, April 3, Mills issued an Executive Order mandating that travelers arriving in Maine, regardless of their state of residency, self-quarantine for 14 days to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Mills had previously issued an executive order ordering all nonessential businesses to close their physical locations for two weeks, and in an earlier civil emergency declaration merely recommended ending classroom instruction in all public schools, postponing all nonurgent medical procedures and restricting access to long-term care facilities.

Mills' emergency declaration made low-interest loans available to small companies and not-for-profits available through the federal Small Business Administration.

On April 28, Mills announced a phased plan to reopen the state and, after establishing a partnership with IDEXX to drastically expand testing in Maine, accelerated that plan for counties without community transmission. On May 14, she moved up the date that hotels and lodging establishments could reopen in the state to June 1.

Mills also has made mask-wearing mandatory in public, indoor spaces, except in certain circumstances. On May 18, Mills announced that state is dropping its system of prioritizing tests for COVID-19, and will now allow health care providers to order testing for anyone suspected of having the disease.

On the federal level, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency, freeing up federal money for states to deal with the crisis. He also has ordered the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico closed to nonessential traffic.

The Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus package on March 25, the third such package. The House passed and sent the package to the President's desk on Friday, March 27. The federal government previously passed $8.3 billion in funding to combat the new coronavirus. NPR has detailed how that money will be distributed. Maine politicians have said that the state will get at least $4.57 million. On April 23, the House approved the latest measure to prop up the U.S. economy and provide aid to the health care system after deploying an elaborate voting system to allow lawmakers to vote while practicing social distancing. The president signed the measure April 24.

The FDA announced May 9 that it has granted its first emergency authorization to a new type of test that can detect the coronavirus, called an antigen test.

On May 10, a public health expert warned that the new coronavirus still “has a long way to run.” Different health experts have stated that none of the states planning to reopen meet all the criteria needed to start reopening.

House lawmakers on May 15 approved a Democratic proposal to provide $3 trillion in coronavirus relief that would include a new wave of help for state and local governments, workers and families. Maine's representatives were split on the bill.

The state CDC is teaming up with the statewide 211 information line to provide operators to answer basic questions about the coronavirus and to direct callers to where they can get answers to more complex questions.

Where is it?

There are 2,325 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine. Eighty-nine people in Maine have died from the disease, as of May 31.

The first confirmed cases of the virus were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Since then the virus has spread throughout Asia, Europe and the United States. There have been over 1.7 million U.S. cases reported as of late May, with over 100,000 deaths attributed to the disease. The U.S. has both the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths in the world.

The CDC has a record of areas with widespread cases of the virus, as well as a record of travel notices. Officials advise against unnecessary travel.

The World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

What is it?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are relatively common. A novel coronavirus is one that has not been previously identified, like the one all over the news right now. This has been officially named SARS-CoV-2, and it can cause the disease COVID-19, which can be life-threatening.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and fatigue. Many of these symptoms are also common symptoms of the flu, so health officials recommend that people get a flu shot so that they are easier to diagnose later, should that be necessary. It can take up to two weeks after initial contact for coronavirus symptoms to become apparent.

There are still some things we don't know about the new coronavirus, but it is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Social distancing is thought to be an effective way to prevent spread.

What should I do?

Several organizations are looking for volunteers or donations at this time. The state has also set up a website for those who would like to help those affected by the pandemic.

If you suspect you have coronavirus, health officials are asking people to call ahead to your local hospital and not just visit the emergency room.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the new coronavirus, though a vaccine may be available as soon as this year. This makes prevention key. There are a few steps that health professionals recommend:

  • Social distancing
  • Staying home if you're sick
  • Avoid gatherings of 10 or more
  • Avoiding touching your face to prevent the spread of germs
  • Sneezing or coughing into a tissue or your elbow if you must — do not sneeze or cough into your hands
  • Washing your hands thoroughly, with soap, for at least 20 seconds after going to the bathroom, before eating and after coughing or sneezing. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but washing with soap and water is preferable.
  • Disinfecting surfaces you touch frequently throughout the day — think keyboards, light switches, door knobs. Current evidence shows that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours to days
  • Avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings

Officials recommend having needed supplies, like prescriptions, and nonperishable foods on hand, the same way you might if a bad storm was expected, although they warn against hoarding supplies and say that it does more harm than good. The fewer times you need to visit a grocery store or like place, the better.

The federal CDC has changed its stance and now recommends that people wear cloth or fabric face coverings, which can be made at home, when entering public spaces such as grocery stores and public transit stations. It is mainly to prevent those people who have the virus — and might not know it — from spreading the infection to others.

These steps can help you and others stay healthy. The people most vulnerable to the virus are those with compromised immune systems. The CDC has developed a risk assessment guidance that is updated periodically.

Anything else I should know?

As the virus has spread from China, many Asian people have reported increased instances of racism and discrimination "racist bullying against people perceived to be Chinese," according to NPR. And in mid-March, President Trump came under criticism for calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus." A professor living in San Francisco has started a site dedicated to collecting reports of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans. Chinese-American artist and product developer Laura Gao shared with NPR her comic, "The Wuhan I Know" a work aimed to disspel stereotypes about the city.

NPR published a comic called Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus. Many have found it useful to share with anxious or curious people of all ages.

And if, after all that, you need some levity, check out "Coronavirus Fears Have Led To A Golden Age Of Hand-Washing PSAs" — educational and entertaining.

You can find ongoing coverage about the coronavirus here at Maine Public and through NPR and PBS

This story was originally published at 9:01 a.m. Tuesday, March 10, 2020.