Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, reported in his daily briefing on April 1 that cases of COVID-19 statewide now number 344.  This represents an increase of 41 cases over a 24 hour period. He also reported that 80 people had recovered from the virus and were no longer in isolation; that two additional individuals have died, bringing the total number of deaths in Maine from the virus to seven; and that the Oxford Street Shelter in Portland has two confirmed cases. The number of health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 remains at 43, with none reported as hospitalized.

Dr. Shah reinforced the importance of social distancing, repeating several times that “Physical distancing is the best vaccine we have right now.” Scientists indicate that an actual vaccine for the virus is at least one year away from possible release due to the complexities involved in development and testing.

Governor Mills has ordered Mainers to stay at home and to fraternize only with their household members. People can leave their homes for essential activities such as going to get food, but they are required to maintain as much physical distance between themselves and others as possible. This order is enforceable with a $1000 fine and six months of jail time, though the Governor hopes Mainers will not require enforcement, and will comply with the order voluntarily.

Exercise such as walking outside is considered essential, however people should not be meeting friends or others outside their household groups to exercise.

Individuals may travel in cars, but only with members of their own households, and groups of friends may not meet up and travel together in private cars or on public transportation. While Dr. Shah and Governor Mills have both repeatedly stressed the importance of staying connected socially and emotionally with others through telephone or virtual means, physical distancing is vital to the effort to control the epidemic.

Dr. Shah emphasized that employers have an independent obligation to make sure they themselves are taking measures to keep their employees safe.

Leaders of immigrant communities and nonprofit groups urge people to reach out to those in their circles by phone who may not follow media regularly, and who may be confused either about the virus, the new order from the Governor, or where to find resources to help them in this time of need. Despite the efforts of many nonprofits and associations, the most vulnerable in Maine may be falling through the cracks, they warned.

With rent due for many in Maine on April 1, tenants are concerned they will be evicted for non-payment of rent due to lost income resulting from the virus. However, courts are closed until May 1, and landlords are required to follow a specific procedure in order to process an eviction – which they cannot do with courts closed – so even if a landlord threatens eviction, tenants cannot usually be evicted.

If a landlord tries to scare a tenant into leaving, the tenant should stay in their home,  call the police, and contact Pine Tree Legal Services for assistance: ptla.org. If a landlord asks that a case be set as an emergency, the tenant should call Pine Tree Legal Services right away. In this event, the tenant has only three days to respond to tell the court why the case is not an emergency. Pine Tree has local offices in all counties. A listing of phone numbers is available on their website: ptla.org

Some people report that they are running out of money and food and are unsure of how to get help. If anyone is having trouble getting assistance like SNAP, MaineCare, TANF, or General Assistance, they should call Maine Equal Justice at 626-7058, ext 205 or visit the website: maineequaljustice.org

Readers are urged to stay connected to Amjambo Africa, where updates are posted throughout the day.