AP NEWS

State closes Lewiston health office as worker gets COVID-19

March 25, 2020 GMT
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Crosswalk signs outnumber the pedestrians in downtown Portland, Maine, just hours before a stay-at-home order goes into effect Wednesday, March 25, 2020, that will close all but essential workplaces in the city. City officials say residents must shelter in place starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Maine has reached 118 coronavirus cases, the majority in Cumberland and York counties. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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Crosswalk signs outnumber the pedestrians in downtown Portland, Maine, just hours before a stay-at-home order goes into effect Wednesday, March 25, 2020, that will close all but essential workplaces in the city. City officials say residents must shelter in place starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Maine has reached 118 coronavirus cases, the majority in Cumberland and York counties. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Department of Health and Human Services closed its office in Maine’s second-largest city on Wednesday after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus, and the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that a rapid increase in cases isn’t over.

The department worker in Lewiston was one of several dozen new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of positive cases to more than 140 in Maine, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC.

“This increase in cases is not a surprise. And I want to be really candid: We expect that it will continue. As in any outbreak, there’s a portion of the outbreak where there’s an rapid uptick in cases. We’ve seen that in other countries. That’s what we have been planning for, and we’re now in the thick of it,” Shah told reporters in Augusta.

Shah warned people to continue to take the threat seriously, telling reporters that the virus spreads more easily than the flu and that it’s five to 20 times more deadly, based on available data.

As for the health office, Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew told reporters she made the decision to immediately close the office in Lewiston to protect workers and to protect the public. She declined to provide details about the worker, a woman who tested positive.

The announcements Wednesday came a day after Gov. Janet Mills ordered nonessential businesses shut down for two weeks. Some communities including Portland, Maine’s largest city, have taken even more drastic steps, asking people to stay at home.

On Wednesday, the Mills administration took additional steps to promote access to health care by making it easier for health care providers to work via telemedicine and to renew their licenses. There also is a provision to reactivate licenses immediately with no fee.

The availability of supplies for those medical workers continues to be a concern. The state has received additional personal protective equipment from the national stockpile but more is needed, Shah said.

Shah also expressed concern about people’s mental health as they deal with stress surrounding the pandemic.

“We’ve talked about a lot of those things that we need. But probably above everything else what we need is compassion and kindness. So I ask everyone to focus on those,” he said.