Inside Augusta

Gov. Mills announces plan to open two alternative care sites, floats postponement of June primary election

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maine grew by 20 overnight to 519 total infections, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Shah announced the virus has claimed the lives of two additional Maine citizens, one a man in his 50s and the other a woman in her 80s, both from Cumberland County which remains the hardest hit area of the state by COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, 99 Mainers have been hospitalized at some point during their COVID-19 illness, 176 have fully recovered and 12 have died as a result of the disease.

Governor Janet Mills joined Dr. Shah at Tuesday’s press briefing to announce the state’s new plan to construct alternative care sites in Bangor and Portland with the assistance of the Maine National Guard and the Maine Emergency Management Agency. The alternative care site in Portland will be the Cross Insurance Arena which will be fitted to hold 100 beds while the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor will be fitted to hold 50 beds.

Governor Mills stressed these alternative care sites are precautionary measures and the state should have enough hospital capacity to prevent their use, though it’s prudent to construct them now in case the state is forced to respond to a worst case scenario. Existing hospitals will remain the first choice for in-patient care of COVID-19. She also noted there are 184 beds statewide that could be converted to support critical care for COVID-19 patients.

The alternative care sites are expected to be constructed next week and staffed shortly thereafter. The governor also announced the state will begin making $10 million in supplemental payments to Maine hospitals next week to support their ongoing work in treating COVID-19 patients.

In addition, Governor Mills said that it’s unlikely the state will be able to hold in-person voting for the scheduled June 9 primary election and floated the possibility of rescheduling the date of the election to July 14. She said her administration continues to work with Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, his office, municipalities and election clerks to work out the logistics and give Mainers enough time to prepare for how they will cast their ballots, whether in-person or through absentee voting.

Dr. Shah said the public health emergency preparedness team at the Maine CDC continues to fufill requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) and that, between yesterday and today, 168 PPE requests were pulled, packed and are being shipped to health care institutions statewide.

Dr. Shah also discussed the various modeling the Maine CDC is doing and stressed the modeling is intended to help the state plan and prepare for, not predict, the spread of COVID-19 in Maine.

“Each model has shown that aggressive, intensive physical distancing can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the demand on the health care system,” Dr. Shah said.

Dr. Shah was also questioned by the media on whether Mainers are responding positively to social distancing instructions and staying home. Using publicly available cell phone data, Shah said the data shows Maine people are staying close to home and heeding the advice of state and national infectious disease experts.

Shah also noted the average age of COVID-19 patients in Maine is 55 years of age and that the Maine CDC laboratory has the capacity to perform between 300 to 400 COVID-19 tests per day.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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