What Mainers Need To Know About The Coronavirus

Sep 22, 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: 3:14 p.m. Sept. 26, 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 in March issued a stay-at-home order for all Maine residents and visitors, imposing strict restrictions on Maine business operations and travel for workers labeled essential and ending in-classroom instruction in Maine schools. That order was replaced at the end of April with a new order allowing for phased reopening of Maine's economy. That plan has been accelerated multiple times, in step with increases in the state's testing capacity. On Aug. 14, the Mills administration released an updated reopening checklist for several businesses, including restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, museums and campgrounds.

On July 8, Mills extended the state of emergency for another 30 days. She has extended the order multiple times, and it's currently set to expire Oct. 1.

Mills also has made mask-wearing mandatory in public, indoor spaces, except in certain circumstances. She issued a more detailed mask mandate on July 8.

On June 8, Mills announced new rules for tourists coming to Maine: visitors seeking lodging may certify that they've had at least one negative COVID-19 test — with some exceptions. On July 2, Mills lifted travel restrictions on visitors from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

On June 11, the Maine Department of Education released its initial framework to help school districts as they look toward resuming in-classroom instruction in the fall. On July 17, Mills and other state officials released a guide for schools to reopen in the fall, using a color-coded system for guidance. Some schools reopened as early as August 13. As of August 28, all schools had a 'green' designation, although  schools in Penobscot and York counties were being reevaluated following an outbreak in the community. Other counties will continue to be assessed every two weeks.

On September 10, the Maine Principals' Association and state officials agreed on a plan that would allow several interscholastic sports to be played this fall but would push football and volleyball to the spring.

On July 30, the Mills administration announced that $5 million in federal coronavirus funds are being made available for those who are having trouble paying their rent due to the virus; Mills also announced that the administration is investing $1 million in an effort to reduce racial and ethnic disparities related to COVID-19. The Mills administration also announced grant opportunities for small businesses on Thursday, August 20.

With state revenues projected to be $528 million less than when the current budget was adopted, Finance Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa is proposing a series of steps to close that budget gap, without layoffs or cuts to school funding.

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.

As of May 15, Congress has authorized roughly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate measures over the last two months. 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.

On June 18, the Senate held a hearing on Democrat-proposed legislation to provide an additional $9 billion in funding to help support international efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of May. 

On July 4, Trump signed legislation extending the deadline for small businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program.

On Aug. 9, Trump signed four executive actions to provide economic relief amid the coronavirus pandemic. The actions amount to a stopgap measure, after failing to secure an agreement with Congress. The three memorandums and one executive order call for extending some enhanced unemployment benefits, taking steps to stop evictions, continuing the suspension of student loan repayments and deferring payroll taxes.

On September 16, the Federal Reserve left interest rates near zero as expected and pledged to keep supporting an economic recovery that appears to be losing steam.

Where is it?

There are 5,260  confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine. One-hundred forty people in Maine have died from the disease, as of September 26.

Compared to the rest of the United States, Maine has had a relatively low infection rate. However, the disease is still spreading in the state. A large outbreak in Maine has been linked to a Millinocket-area wedding that took place Aug. 7, 2020.  As of August 25, epidemiologists have indentified a total of 60 cases associated with that event. Twenty-two are among people who attended the wedding. They then spread it to another 24 close contacts, who have since spread it to an additional 14 people. One woman who contracted the disease in connection with the event has died.

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 6.5 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 200,000 have died. The U.S. has both the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths in the world.

Patterns of outbreaks have not been consistent across the country, and rates differ greatly from state-to-state.

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. 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.

The virus is highly contagious. A growing body of evidence indicates that airborne transmission is the main way people are becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.

What should I do?

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

  • Social distancing
  • 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

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.

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.

COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black Mainers and new Mainers. Leaders in Maine's Black, immigrant and minority communities are calling on the Mills administration to do more to protect vulnerable popultions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mass protests that have erupted over police brutality toward black people in America are raising concerns about the risk of spreading the coronavirus. But some health experts, even as they urge caution, said they support the demonstrations — because racism also poses a dire health threat.

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.