Two more Maine residents have died from the new coronavirus as health officials confirmed another 28 cases.
Both of the deaths were in women in their 80s from York and Kennebec counties, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are the first deaths linked to the coronavirus in either county.
The latest deaths come after those of three Cumberland County residents — two men in their 60s and 80s and a woman in her 80s — were confirmed late last week and over the weekend. That brings the statewide death toll to five since the first case of the coronavirus in the state was confirmed more than two weeks ago.
Shah told reporters there are now 303 cases spread across 12 Maine counties. That’s up from 275 on Monday.
Of those, 57 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Sixty-eight people have fully recovered and been released from isolation, Shah said.
Shah said a case of the coronavirus was confirmed in an individual who spent time at Portland’s Oxford Street Shelter, while two children, neither of whom are school age, have tested positive. Shah disclosed no further information about those two children, and he did not immediately have an update on the condition of another two children who have contracted the coronavirus.
He said that there have been seven people tested within the Maine Department of Corrections system, four of which have come back negative and three of which await results. Three adults and one juvenile have been isolated within the correctional system, according to the Department of Corrections.
There are 43 health care workers who have caught the coronavirus, which was unchanged since Monday, according to Shah. Those include two doctors at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, a nurse at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and a provider at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.
Health care workers are among those most at risk because of their close contact with those already sick with the coronavirus and a shortage of protective equipment, according to The Lancet.
A majority of the cases have been in Maine residents over age 50, while they are evenly split between women and men.
Shah said there are currently 600 tests from those considered of the lowest risk to the coronavirus waiting to be processed. He said Monday that his agency has eliminated its backlog of tests from those at highest risk.
So far, the coronavirus has hit hardest in Cumberland County, where 169 cases have been confirmed. It is one of two counties — the other is York County, with 59 cases — where “community transmission” has been confirmed. The Maine CDC is investigating the possibility of community transmission in Androscoggin (11 cases), Penobscot (12) and Kennebec (12) counties, according to Shah.
Shah said there are two criteria for establishing community transmission: at least 10 confirmed cases and that at least 25 percent of those cases are not connected to either known cases or travel.
Other cases have been detected in Franklin (2), Knox (5), Lincoln (8), Oxford (9), Sagadahoc (7), Somerset (1) and Waldo (2) counties. Information about where another six cases were detected was not immediately available Tuesday morning.
“What we do know is that community transmission is occurring in many places in the state … Our view is that no matter where you are in the state of Maine, even if your county has not yet recorded a case, keep continuing to prepare. No one should be waiting … before they decide to continue or start taking action to prepare,” Shah said, adding that it is “inevitable” that the coronavirus will spread to every corner of the state
Shah acknowledged that the pandemic has introduced a great deal of uncertainty into people’s lives as businesses and schools have closed and Maine residents have been recommended to reduce contact with others in order to halt the coronavirus’ spread. When the normal pace of life will return to the state isn’t clear.
“For the time being, this uncertainty may be the new norm. And I fully recognize that uncertainty is unsettling. And I want to acknowledge that that feeling of uncertainty, those feelings of unsettling are OK. We’re all feeling it,” Shah said via videoconference from the Maine Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Augusta.
But Shah encouraged everyone to take steps to bring a sense of “settling” back into their lives — talking with friends and family and helping neighbors in whatever way they can.
“We, each of us, have a role to play and each of us can do something to help out this greater effort, but we can also do some things to introduce some calm, some order and some settling into our lives right now,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the virus has sickened 163,539 people in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and caused 2,860 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease