What Mainers Need To Know About The Coronavirus

Jan 19, 2021

Maine Public is committed to keeping you informed with reliable news around the coronavirus. Here you can find information and resources about the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19 — where they have been spreading, how the state is responding, recommendations on how to best protect yourself and other useful information. This guide will be updated periodically.

For the latest developments and news, check out Maine Public's home page or Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The Maine CDC hosts a three-times-weekly press briefing, at 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday. It can be seen and heard on Maine Public Radio, Television and mainepublic.org. A direct link to the stream may also be found here.

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

Last update: 3:00 p.m. Jan. 12, 2021.

How is the government responding?

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

Maine health officials began distributing vaccines against the coronavirus in December, starting with health care workers and residents and employees of long-term care facilities — all groups that were prioritized in the first phase of the state’s coronavirus vaccination plan. 

More than 50,000 Mainers had received at least their first shot in the arm by mid-January, accounting for roughly 4 percent of the state’s population. The two vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna both require two doses administered a few weeks apart.

Without a widely available vaccine, Gov. Janet Mills has imposed a number of restrictions meant to prevent the virus from spreading, including capacity limits on stores and restaurants, a mask mandate for all public places, a 9 pm curfew for businesses and a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travelers from almost every other state — New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt — who can’t present a recent negative coronavirus test upon arriving in Maine. 

After imposing a stay-at-home order last spring, the Mills administration rolled back some business restrictions during the summer and fall, but it has imposed new rules as the virus has surged again over the last few months. A state of emergency has been in effect since March, and has been extended multiple times, most recently through late January.

Schools were allowed to reopen this year, but the state evaluates the spread of the virus in counties each week to determine whether they’re safe enough for in-person classes, assigning them a color-coded designation of green, yellow or red. Scholastic sports have in some cases been allowed to move forward, under certain guidelines.

On the economic side, the Mills administration has made millions in federal relief funds available to help businesses and renters who have had trouble staying open and paying rent during the health crisis. The state has also invested $1 million in an effort to reduce racial and ethnic disparities related to COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected people of color in Maine. 

While the state is expected to face a $630 million revenue shortfall over the next three years as a result of economic damage from the pandemic, federal relief funds and better-than-expected revenue forecasts allowed Mills to submit in early January a two-year $8.4 billion budget proposal without any dramatic spending cuts, tax increases or new programs

On the federal level, outgoing President Donald Trump signed on Dec. 28 a massive coronavirus relief bill that included $900 billion in aid, including direct payments to qualifying Americans, worth up to $600 per adult and child; a boost in weekly unemployment benefits; and funds for small-business aid and vaccine distribution. That supplemented roughly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief that Congress authorized last spring. 

Where is it?

While Maine has had some of the nation’s lowest rates of COVID-19 infections throughout the pandemic, it has been surging to record levels since the late fall as people spend more time with each other indoors. Unlike during the initial surge last spring, when infections were concentrated in the most populous sections of southern Maine, virtually every part of the state is now being hit. 

By mid-January, the state had recorded over 30,000 total coronavirus cases, as well as nearly 550 deaths and 1,200 hospitalizations, according to the Maine CDC — and the virus was growing at a rate of about 500 cases and 8 deaths a day since the start of the year. The most cumulative infections have been reported in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties. All but one county — Piscataquis — have seen more than 350 confirmed infections since last March. 

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.

More than 22.5 million million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 375,000 have died, as of Jan. 12. The U.S. has both the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths in the world.

What is it?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are relatively common. A novel coronavirus is one that has not been previously identified. This one 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. It can take up to two weeks after initial contact for coronavirus symptoms to become apparent, which is why health officials emphasize the importance of social distancing, wearing face coverings and avoiding gatherings with people from outside your household.

The virus is highly contagious and can effectively spread through airborne transmission.

What should I do?

Until the coronavirus vaccines become widely available, health experts advise that people should continue to take the same precautions they have throughout 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. The state offers guidance on how to find a testing site and get tested.

There are a few preventive steps that health professionals recommend:

  • Stay 6 feet from others when going out in public.

  • Wear face masks or coverings that cover both the nose and mouth when going out in public or near people from outside your household.

  • Avoid gatherings with people from outside your household, particularly in crowded indoor settings with poor ventilation.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, with soap, for at least 20 seconds after leaving a public setting, 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.

  • Disinfect surfaces you touch frequently throughout the day — think keyboards, light switches, door knobs. 

  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue or your elbow if you must — do not sneeze or cough into your hands.

  • Avoid unnecessary travel.

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.

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.

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.