After symptoms close state facility, workers test negative
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Seven state employees who showed symptoms of COVID-19, leading to a two-day closure of the emergency operations center where they work, tested negative, officials said Friday.
The employees worked out of the Maine Emergency Management Agency’s operations center in Augusta. Three were agency employees, while two worked for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and two were National Guard members.
Parts of the building will be deep cleaned, officials said. State epidemiologists are also investigating what led to the symptoms reported by the employees, who first called in sick Thursday.
The state responded to the callouts by switching the operations center to mostly virtual. No staffers worked from there Friday, state officials said.
The state CDC said in a statement Friday that measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus should be taken “regardless of the setting.” The state had yet to decide whether the facility would remain virtual next week.
In other news in Maine related to the virus:
Maine has had more than 2,200 cases of the virus and 85 deaths through Friday. The state CDC reported 37 new cases and an additional death Friday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
DOJ WANTS CAMPS OPEN
The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it has filed court papers in support of campground operators who believe a state quarantine order is unconstitutional. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has issued an order that out-of-state visitors must quarantine for 14 days.
The campgrounds sued in federal court because they believe the rule treats Maine residents more favorably than out-of-state residents, and that is hurting them economically.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said state governments “cannot limit the right of out-of-state Americans to travel to their state unless doing so is substantially related to protecting the public safety.” The DOJ said it believes the state could use less restrictive means to reach that goal.
Mills said the quarantine is “a proven tool to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.” She said the DOJ is “making a concerted effort to undermine the health of the people of Maine.”
An agency that provides health care and other services to Native American groups in Maine is getting $300,000 from the federal government for pandemic response.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving the money to Wabanaki Health and Wellness. The money is intended to “prepare, prevent and respond to COVID-19 in rural tribal communities in Maine,” the federal agency said in a statement.
The grant is part of $15 million in federal money that has been awarded to more than 50 tribes, tribal organizations, urban health organizations and other tribal health service providers in 20 states, the agency said.
Wabanaki Health and Wellness is headquartered in Bangor and describes itself as “a not-for-profit organization for tribally-enrolled Native Americans, serving the Penobscot, Washington and Aroostook counties of Maine.”
REOPENING, PHASE 2
The second phase of the state’s reopening plan is set to begin Monday. That phase allows for more restaurants to reopen, though restaurants in southern Maine and Androscoggin County will still be restricted from allowing dine-in customers.
More beaches and state parks are also scheduled to be able to reopen Monday. Mills signed an executive order on Friday that allows for a continued easing of restrictions applied earlier in the pandemic.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles will also reopen, by appointment only, starting Monday, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said.
Twelve of the bureau’s 13 offices and its central office in Augusta will be open to process transactions by phone or in-person appointment only, he said.
The Springvale office will be closed until further notice, Dunlap said.