Maine’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 was seen in an Auburn woman who came through the Central Maine Medical Center emergency department in Lewiston on Tuesday, a hospital spokesperson confirmed Thursday afternoon.
“The patient had been in one of the countries where the outbreak has been widespread,” said Kate Carlisle, CMHC’s director of public relations. “Upon returning to Maine, the patient developed respiratory symptoms; flu-like symptoms. It was suggested to the patient that they get it checked out, so they called ahead to our emergency department.”
The woman, in her 50s and a U.S. Navy reservist who had been Italy, was told by the military to self-quarantine while awaiting the results of the screening. Once the results were in, the woman returned home to remain quarantined.
When she returned from Italy, the woman was picked up at the Portland Jetport last Friday by Michelle Roberts, a friend who runs a day care in Lewiston. Roberts, who has not exhibited any symptoms, was later advised by the CDC to quarantine at home until March 21. Roberts and her daughter made the decision to close their day care while the quarantine continues.
Roberts said aside from her friend, none of the people she has had contact with after the airport trip required quarantine, mainly because Roberts hasn’t exhibited any symptoms of the virus. She said she is in regular contact with the CDC as her own quarantine continues.
“They have been amazing,” she said.
Roberts said when she picked her friend up at the airport, her friend did not appear sick, although she was tired from the trip. In coming days, she started to feel worse.
“She started feeling like she had a cold,” Roberts said. “You know, regular sniffling and of course, you’re coming back from a trip and you’re tired and whatever. Is it jet lag and time change and all that good stuff? You’re thinking you’re just exhausted from travel.”
When her friend’s symptoms got worse, Roberts convinced her to contact her doctor and get screened. The results came in soon after.
Roberts did not wish to identify her friend.
“She’s kind of private,” Roberts said, “and she’s trying to absorb all this. It’s tough when you’re dealing with something like that.”
According to a statement from Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday morning, the CDC is speaking to the woman and her medical provider to assess travel history and begin to investigate possible community exposure. The individual is quarantined at her home.
Also on Thursday, Central Maine Healthcare announced it will begin restricting visitors under the age of 12 in its hospitals, and will restrict all visitors at its two long-term care facilities: Bolster Heights in Auburn and the Rumford Community Home.
On Friday, it will begin restricting visitations at Central Maine Medical Center, Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital, although some exceptions may be made in certain situations by hospital staff.
According to Carlisle, CMHC has also established satellite screening locations outside the emergency departments at its three hospitals. The locations are heated and supplied with power and allow extra space for people to be screened if they believe they are experiencing symptoms of the virus, particularly for those people who have recently traveled.
Nurses are being stationed at the front of the emergency departments to direct patients who come to be screened, Carlisle said.
“This is a way that we could handle any potential surge of people who, upon hearing the news (of a confirmed coronavirus case in Androscoggin County), wanted to get tested,” Carlisle said.
She stressed that not everybody who has respiratory symptoms will be carrying the virus — there are still plenty of ordinary colds and flu in the area, she said. Patients will need to meet criteria to be tested for coronavirus.
Carlisle said the appearance of coronavirus in the county doesn’t change a lot in the game plan CMHC has had in place since mid-January.
“We’re always in a state of preparedness because in health care you kind of have to be,” she said. “Since Jan. 22, we’ve been putting a lot of extra things into play. We have been ensuring that we have the facilities and the equipment and the staffing levels that we need, just in the eventuality of an outbreak. And it’s always imminent.”
Carlisle emphasized that coronavirus is not circulating widely in the Androscoggin County area. The woman who came in on Tuesday contracted the virus through travel, she said. “So it’s not as if the patient sort of randomly picked it up,” Carlisle said.
She said CMHC is also taking steps to protect its staff as well as its patients who are in its facilities for reasons unrelated to coronavirus.
At St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, officials said they will restrict access to Lewiston’s d’Youville Pavilion and screen all visitors to that facility.
“We have been proactive with our COVID-19 preparations,” said Jason Gould, director of marketing for Saint Mary’s Health System. “We are following CDC guidance here at the hospital and will modify our existing plans as needed.”
The hospital’s website noted: “We are a part of a multidisciplinary, system-wide task force across Covenant Health-member organizations that is carefully monitoring this situation and developing strategies to be prepared, along with local, state and federal officials.”
The website offered rules for visitors that included:
“Do not visit if you have a fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms.
“Do not visit if you have recently visited to a travel-restricted country or an area with community spread of coronavirus.
“Do not visit if you’ve had contact with a person who has or is suspected to have coronavirus.”
During a news conference at noon in Augusta, Gov. Mills said, “The Maine CDC has been preparing for this eventuality since the end of last year. With one presumptive positive case, Maine has a unique window of opportunity to delay an outbreak, like those we see in other states, and to minimize our exposure.”
“Maine CDC has been preparing for more than two months for the eventual arrival of COVID-19,” said Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC. “As we work to ensure the best care for this individual, we are not seeing widespread community transmission in Maine. The recommendation we make today is designed to limit potential spread of the virus here.”
According to Mills’ office, the woman’s test sample will be sent to the U.S. CDC for confirmation. Test results on other individuals are pending. Maine CDC will inform the public if positive tests are confirmed and will offer regular updates on testing recommendations. Positive test results will be posted to Maine CDC’s coronavirus webpage.
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