March 18 updates from Governor Janet Mills –

  1. All non-work gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. This includes faith-based gatherings.
  2. All dine-in restaurants and bars statewide are ordered to close until midnight on March 31.
  3. As of the morning of March 18, there are 42 cases Covid-19 statewide. 30 cases have been confirmed and 12 are presumptive. This is an increase of 14 people since March 17. One person has now fully recovered from Covid-19 in Maine. 

On Tuesday, March 17, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC), met virtually with over 80 New Mainer leaders and advocates to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and how communities in Maine can stay safe.

Dr. Shah started the meeting with a brief overview of Covid-19’s initial appearance in China as a form of pneumonia in mid-December. He said that China notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the new virus and shared their mapping of the DNA of the virus, which enabled research and preparations to begin, including in Maine.

He then gave an update on Covid-19’s reach, saying that it has spread into seven counties in Maine thus far. He reported 32 positive test results in Maine as of Tuesday morning, with 23 confirmed cases and 9 presumptive cases. The majority of cases are in Cumberland County, and that is the only county so far where community transmission – where the source of the virus cannot be traced to out of state travel or contact with someone who has traveled out of state – has occurred. Dr. Shah expects other areas of the state to experience community transmission as well. Two children are sick with the virus, one of whom is under 10 years old. The children are not hospitalized. (As of the morning of March 18, there are 42 cases Covid-19 statewide, with cases in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, York). 

Dr. Shah emphasized that we are in an emergency situation right now, and he said it is important that everyone have the correct facts and follow CDC guidelines closely. He also said it is important not to panic. “Panic is a paralytic,” he stressed. He said that if Mainers comply with CDC recommendations now we might be able to avoid a large scale health disaster.

The virus is spread through close contact with someone who is carrying it. Close contact entails being within 2 meters of someone for at least 15 minutes. The carrier may not show symptoms at all. In fact, children rarely have intense symptoms. However, sneezes, coughs, and even talking spreads droplets in the air that can then be inhaled. At this time there is no evidence that the virus is spread through food.

In fact, here are still many unknowns about the new virus, such as how long it can live on surfaces in a house, and what dose of the virus is needed to cause infection. The virus is known to live hours in a science lab – some say days. Research is underway to learn more about the particulars of Covid-19, Dr. Shah said.

The good news is that simple, everyday basic cleaning products kill the virus – fancy soap is not needed. The trick is washing thoroughly and often and exerting pressure on the hands to create friction. Dr. Shah encouraged those at the virtual meeting to “Imagine you have just been slicing a big bag of hot peppers, and now you have to take your contact lenses out. That’s how hard you need to wash your hands!”

In addition to washing hands, he emphasized taking steps to keep surroundings clean through disinfecting. He said that ammonia, diluted with water, works well against the virus, and also mentioned that the CDC website lists products that kill Covid-19. He noted that ammonia should not be mixed with bleach, and that bleach should not be used around food.

After sharing the facts about transmission, the rest of the virtual meeting was spent in conversation around issues specific to immigrant communities in Maine, such as social distancing.  Most newcomers come from cultures that are very connected and social, with visits and gatherings a regular part of daily life, making social distancing a particularly challenging guideline to follow. But it is crucial.

Dr. Shah mentioned that we are approaching a number of important celebrations, and that large numbers of people generally congregate in one place for these celebrations – Eid is an example. “Some of the cultural traditions you hold so dear may be disrupted,” he said. Celebrations need to be different this year in order to protect Maine’s communities, Dr. Shah said. This disruption is temporary, he emphasized repeatedly– after the Covid-19 crisis has passed, communities can resume traditional ways of celebrating. However, this year groups should not gather in large numbers. People can celebrate, but they should do it in small groups, and safely – outside if possible. And people should not eat from communal plates, Dr. Shah said, because someone could sneeze or cough on the food.

Many immigrants attend houses of worship regularly, but the Governor has signed into law on March 18 thata no more than 10 people to gather at any one time. Dr. Shah suggested that places of worship should prepare to transfer services to another means of reaching their congregants – WhatsApp, for example, or Skype.

Dr. Shah closed the meeting with assurances that he would be available to immigrant leaders and their advocates and that he is focused on helping to make sure accurate information reaches all Maine’s communities.