Maine CDC Press Release

June 29, 2021

Maine CDC Reports Case of Powassan Virus

Rare illness caused by tick bite is Maine's first case in 2021

AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) has confirmed the states first case of Powassan virus infection in 2021. A Waldo County resident who likely became infected in Maine is recovering after spending time in the hospital.

Cases of Powassan are rare in the United States, with about 25 cases reported each year since 2015. Maine has identified 9 cases since 2010. Humans become infected with Powassan through the bite of an infected deer tick or woodchuck tick.

Maine CDC urges residents and visitors to take precautions against bites from ticks, as well as mosquitoes, which can similarly spread serious diseases. There are four viruses spread by ticks or mosquitoes in Maine. Besides Powassan virus, which is spread by ticks, infected mosquitoes in Maine can spread Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Jamestown Canyon virus (JCV) and West Nile virus (WNV). All these viruses have similar symptoms, which may include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Serious neurologic problems may occur, including infection of the brain or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Severe infection may result in death.

Deer ticks can also carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and other illnesses.

Many people infected with the viruses carried by ticks and mosquitoes do not have symptoms. No specific treatment is available for these viral diseases. If you experience symptoms, call a health care provider as soon as you can.

The best protection against all tickborne and mosquito-borne diseases is to prevent bites. Prevent tick and mosquito bites by:

  • Wearing protective clothing, including long sleeves and pants.
  • Using an EPA-approved repellent on skin, and Permethrin on clothing for added protection.
  • Using caution in tick-infested areas. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and stay in the middle of trails whenever possible.
  • Taking extra precautions at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes in Maine are most active.
  • Performing daily tick checks, especially after leaving tick habitat and after returning home.
  • Bathing or showering after coming inside. Also examine clothing, gear, and pets.
  • Draining artificial sources of standing water around the home. This is ideal habitat for mosquitoes to lay eggs.
  • Asking a veterinarian about tick bite prevention for cats and dogs, and vaccinating horses against EEE and WNV.

For more information:

September 30, 2021

Maine DHHS Announces Expanded COVID-19 Testing Options

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced today expanded options for COVID-19 testing in Maine, including improved availability of testing for child care facilities and the addition of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing at Walgreens pharmacies throughout Maine.

“While the way out of the pandemic is vaccination, getting tested for COVID-19 remains critical to limiting the spread of the deadly virus,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “These expanded testing options, which are being federally funded thanks to the Biden Administration, will help keep children and child care staff safe as well as give Maine people additional choices for testing at pharmacies throughout the state.”

Maine child care facilities may now access pooled testing for children and staff through the federal government’s Operation Expanded Testing program, which provides free COVID-19 pooled testing to select community organizations and K-12 schools. Maine DHHS identified approximately 40 child care providers in underserved areas that are eligible for the federally funded program and reached out to them this week to encourage them to consider this opportunity to limit of the spread of COVID-19. Pooled testing involves mixing several test samples together in a “batch” or “pool” and then testing the pooled sample with a PCR test to detect the virus. Child care providers can work directly with the federal program’s vendor, Affinity Empowering, to enroll and receive training and supplies.

Maine DHHS is additionally supporting all licensed child care facilities by issuing updated guidance that expands the use of rapid testing for staff. Child care providers may now use rapid tests distributed by the State to test staff who are experiencing mild symptoms and for one-time testing of fully vaccinated staff who have been identified as a close contact. Negative test results allow staff to continue working in both instances, supporting the ongoing safe operation of child care facilities. Additionally, child care facilities may continue to use the rapid tests for serial testing of asymptomatic, unvaccinated staff who were identified as close contact of a confirmed case.

Maine DHHS is providing rapid antigen tests to child care facilities as part of its ongoing distributions to ensure access to testing among populations and in settings with an elevated risk of COVID-19. DHHS recently secured an additional 35,000 rapid antigen tests that will continue to be distributed to child care facilities, schools, Walgreens pharmacies, congregate care settings, federally qualified health centers, community-based organizations, and homeless shelters.

DHHS also announced today that Walgreens is expanding PCR testing options to nearly all of its locations in Maine as part of the federal Increasing Community Access to Testing Team program. This week, 16 pharmacies began offering PCR testing in addition to rapid testing, joining 19 locations that already provided both free testing options. An additional 28 sites will add PCR testing by mid-October. Walgreens patrons may self-collect a sample with a nasal swab under the supervision of Walgreens staff and submit the sample through the drive-through window, with results generally available in 48 to 72 hours at no charge.

“Walgreens is pleased to further expand COVID-19 testing options across our Maine pharmacies to include PCR testing, which are sent to labs for analysis, while continuing to offer access to rapid point of care tests,” said Mike Umbleby, vice president of clinical performance at Walgreens. “The essential role pharmacists and our pharmacy care teams play in the health care delivery system has never been more clear and we are proud of our efforts to make COVID-19 testing accessible for individuals to make informed decisions about their health.”

Maine also continues to see increased use of pooled testing among schools. Today, the Maine Department of Education will begin publicly posting updated information on use of the program, along with school case and outbreak data. As of today, 476 schools, or 66 percent of those eligible, have enrolled in the pooled testing program, with approximately half already pool testing on a weekly basis.

Testing identifies people infected by COVID-19 early, often before symptoms appear, allowing them to isolate to limit the number of additional people infected.

For a list of COVID-19 testing options, visit maine.gov/covid19/testing. Maine people may also call 211 for information on COVID-19 testing options.

October 7, 2021

Take Precautions Against Browntail Moth Hairs When Outdoors This Fall

AUGUSTA The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine remind Maine residents and visitors about how to limit health risks posed by browntail moth hairs this fall.

Hairs from browntail moth caterpillars can get stirred up during fall yardwork. These tiny hairs can cause a skin reaction like poison ivy and cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems. People in all 16 Maine counties are at some risk of exposure to browntail moth hairs.

Browntail moth caterpillars grow and shed their hairs from April to late June or early July. The hairs remain toxic in the environment for up to three years, although they lose toxicity over time. Hairs blow around in the air and fall onto leaves and brush. Mowing, raking, sweeping, and other activities can cause the hairs to become airborne, increasing the risk of skin and breathing problems.

Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days. In some people, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Hairs may also cause trouble breathing in some people, which may result in respiratory distress. There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by browntail moth hairs. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

To reduce exposure to browntail moth hairs while working outdoors:

  • If possible, do yardwork when leaves are wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne.
    • Do not rake, use leaf blowers, or mow the lawn on dry days.
    • Do not dry laundry outside where hairs can cling to clothing.
  • Cover your face and any exposed skin by wearing: a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles, a respirator/dust mask, a hat, and a disposable coverall.
    • Secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles.
    • If respirators are difficult to find, performing activities in damp conditions with a cloth face covering may reduce the risk of inhaling caterpillar hairs.
  • Apply pre-contact poison ivy wipes to help keep hairs from sticking into exposed skin.
  • Take a cool shower to wash off loose hairs.
  • Change clothes after outdoor activities.
  • Use extra caution when bringing in items stored outdoors, such as firewood, or working in areas sheltered from the rain, like under decks.

For more information:

October 13, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccination Jumps Among Maine Health Care Workers

AUGUSTA—The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) today published updated monthly data showing that COVID-19 vaccination rates rose rapidly in September among Maine health care workers, further protecting these front-line workers, the health and lives of people in their care, and safeguarding Maine’s health care capacity.

Over the most recent reporting period, between September 1 through September 30, rates climbed above 90 percent for hospitals (91.6%) and ambulatory surgery centers (92%). The September rates increased by more than 10 percentage points in assisted housing facilities (88.1%) and intermediate care facilities (83.2%). Rates also rose significantly in nursing homes (85.8%).

For comparison, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that full vaccination among Maine adults is 80 percent as of October 12, and 67.9 percent among all U.S. adults.

“Maine’s health care workers are increasingly receiving these safe and effective vaccines, which will protect their health, their patients’ lives, and our health care system as we continue to fight the dangerous and more transmissible Delta variant,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Nirav D. Shah. “We continue to urge all Maine people to get vaccinated – it's the best and most effective tool we have to keep our health system strong and turn the tide on this pandemic.”

DHHS began posting health care worker vaccination rates monthly on June 22. On August 12, the Mills Administration announced that workers in licensed health care facilities would be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as they have long been required to get vaccinated against other infectious diseases. Less than a month later, on September 9, President Biden announced a nationwide heath care worker COVID-19 vaccine requirement that does not include a testing alternative. Enforcement of Maine’s vaccination requirement for health care workers, which is supported by the Maine Hospital Association, the majority of Maine’s health systems, and the Maine Health Care Association, begins as of October 29, 2021.

This monthly reporting will end with October 2021 vaccination rates, which DHHS will use in compliance activity. This survey will then transition from a monthly report to an annual compliance report in December 2021.

In addition to using the 2021 health care worker vaccination rate survey as a basis for ongoing reporting, Maine DHHS and CDC intend to deploy effective compliance tools such as random audits and complaint-driven investigations to protect health care workers as well as patients. In response to suggestions from stakeholders, and to help facilities during the transition to the new rule in November, Maine DHHS and CDC will use enforcement discretion during this time-limited period to allow health care facilities subject to the emergency rule to hire a new employee who has received at least a first dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine prior to the employee’s start date. This is conditional on the employer ensuring that the employee uses appropriate personal protective equipment and is tested at least weekly until the employee is fully vaccinated (including an employee who received a Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine prior to the start of employment). Any such employee who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must receive the second dose on the FDA-authorized schedule.

Health care workers and their workplaces have been especially susceptible to COVID-19. As of October 12, 2021, at least 6,516 health care workers have tested positive for the disease. More than 350 health care setting outbreaks have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. The majority (59%) of workers’ compensation claims in the last two years came from health care workers, with an even greater majority (61%) occurring in 2020 before the vaccine was widely available, showing the vulnerability of health care workers to infection from the disease.

To address both pandemic-related staffing challenges and the longstanding health care workforce issue in Maine, the Mills Administration has provided one-time payments of $146 million to hospitals and nursing facilities. Hospitals will receive these supplemental payments this month. Further, the Administration awarded $25 million to these same health care organizations in August to support recovery from the pandemic. The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan includes another nearly $20 million to address short- and long-term workforce gaps. And, the Department has launched MaineCare reforms to improve its payment rates, especially for direct care workers.

The COVID-19 vaccine continues to be widely available in Maine, at no cost and often with no appointment necessary. For a list of vaccination sites, visit the State’s vaccine website or call the Community Vaccination Line at 1-888-445-4111.

October 15, 2021

Maine CDC urges precautions against ticks during outdoor activities this fall

AUGUSTA— The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC)urges residents and visitors to take precautions against disease-carrying deer ticks this fall. Maine experiences a second peak in adult deer tick activity in late September through November. Deer ticks are commonly found in wooded, leafy, and shrubby areas. This may include areas around the yard.

Deer ticks can carry the germs that cause diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. These germs spread through the bite of an infected deer tick. As of October 12, 2021, Maine CDC recorded 1,054 cases of Lyme disease, 559 cases of anaplasmosis, 163 cases of babesiosis, and 3 cases of Powassan encephalitis this year. This is a record high for babesiosis cases.

The most commonly reported symptom of Lyme disease in Maine is a “bull’s-eye” rash. Other common symptoms of tickborne disease include body aches, chills, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. If you experience any of these symptoms, Maine CDC recommends that you mention a recent tick bite or time spent in tick habitat to a healthcare provider.

Take steps to limit exposure to ticks this fall. The following four strategies help prevent exposure to ticks and tick borne diseases:

  1. Know when you are in tick habitat and use caution.
  2. Use an EPA-approved repellent like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  3. Wear light-colored clothing that covers the arms and legs and tuck pants into socks.
  4. Perform tick checks daily and after any outdoor activity.

For more information:

October 21, 2021

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Releases Casey Family Programs Child Welfare Recommendations

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services today released a report (PDF) supported by Casey Family Programs, a national leader in promoting child wellbeing, with recommendations to improve the safety of Maine children and families in response to child fatalities reported in June.

The Department asked Casey to evaluate existing child safety policies in the context of the deaths and to offer interim policy recommendations that could be implemented by the State of Maine to support child and family safety. Casey partnered with Collaborative Safety, an organization that uses safety science methods to conduct critical incident reviews, to conduct this independent assessment on the expedited timeline required by the Department. Casey has partnered with Collaborative Safety to conduct such reviews in other child welfare jurisdictions throughout the country.

The Department is closely reviewing the report’s seven recommendations. The recommendations support effective coordination and communication, particularly among partners in the child welfare system, such as law enforcement, medical professionals, and parents. The report also recommends evaluation of standby and after hours staffing, the policy for facilitated meetings with families, and the work tasks necessary in a child abuse or neglect assessment.

“We remain committed to learning all we can from these tragic deaths and taking action to help Maine children grow up safe, healthy, and loved,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “Casey Family Programs brought a wealth of experience and national perspective to this thorough review and we are comprehensively evaluating their recommendations to identify steps we can take immediately and over the long-term to protect Maine children.”

“The heartbreaking deaths of these children continue to be felt among their families, their communities, our staff, and our state as a whole,” said Todd Landry, Director of the DHHS Office of Child and Family Services. “Casey’s expert review will help us work with our partners throughout the child welfare system to keep children safe and support Maine families now and into the future.”

Founded in 1966, Casey Family Programs works in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and with tribal nations across North America to influence long-lasting improvements to the well-being of children, families and the communities where they live.

Casey’s review included the staff and leadership of the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services, the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman, partner agency staff, law enforcement, and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

The Department in July 2021 asked Casey to assist in the investigation of four child deaths that had occurred during the previous month. Following that announcement, the Department subsequently asked Casey to review a fifth death. The five children, who were all four years or younger, died from accidents or serious injuries. The deaths occurred on June 1 in Brewer, on June 6 in Old Town, on June 17 in Temple, on June 20 in Stockton Springs, and on June 24 in Windham.

The Department will publicly release actions it will take in response to Casey’s recommendations next week.

The Department’s commitment to transparency around child safety additionally includes publicly reporting aggregate information on child fatalities. On September 1, the Department publicly posted for the first time historical information on certain child deaths in Maine and committed to regular public updates of the data. Today, the Department updated these data through September 2021, as part of planned quarterly updates.

In 2019, Maine adopted a Child & Family Services Strategic Plan following a comprehensive evaluation by the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) and other stakeholders, which includes improvements in policies and practices to ensure child safety; expanded staffing and training; increased focus on family wellbeing; and a sharper focus on permanency, which means limiting the time a child is in a temporary placement. OCFS has added about 60 additional staff since the plan’s implementation. Furthermore, Maine is implementing its Federal Family First Prevention Services Act plan following approval in September 2021 from the federal government, which will expand prevention services to help keep children and families healthy and safe and prevent the need for children to come into the care and custody of the State. Maine, the first New England state to gain approval to implement this program, will receive approximately $2.4 million in federal funding annually.

Anyone concerned about child abuse or neglect should call DHHS’ 24-hour hotline at 1-800-452-1999. Calls may be made anonymously.

October 22, 2021

Maine CDC Investigates Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Crabmeat Distributor

Packages purchased between June 15, 2021, and August 15, 2021, should be discarded

AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is investigating five cases of Salmonellosis associated with eating crabmeat from Hardie’s Crabmeat in Deer Isle, Maine. The cases include four Maine residents and one New Hampshire resident. Two individuals required hospitalization.

An investigation by Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) found that the crabmeat was most likely contaminated during preparation and packaging. Maine CDC recommends that consumers discard packages of Hardie’s Crabmeat purchased between June 15, 2021, and August 15, 2021. Freezing does not destroy the bacteria that causes the illness. The establishment’s owners have addressed investigators’ concerns about the contaminated crabmeat, and there is no evidence that crabmeat currently being sold poses a risk if consumed. Crabmeat from Hardie’s was sold at multiple locations throughout Maine, but packages should be clearly labeled as coming from Hardie’s.

Salmonellosis is an illness caused by a group of bacteria called Salmonella. It is a major cause of diarrheal illness in the United States. Salmonella bacteria can be found in the intestines of people and animals. Pets and farm animals can carry the bacteria and spread Salmonella. Common symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, fever, and headache. Symptoms usually start 6 to 72 hours after exposure and can last up to a week. Older individuals, infants, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe illness. Some infected people do not have any symptoms.

You should not work if you are sick with Salmonellosis. This is especially important if you are a food handler, child care worker, or health care worker. Maine CDC recommends that individuals who experience severe symptoms contact their medical provider.

Call DACF at (207) 287-3841 for questions about the investigation to trace the contaminated product. Call Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821 if you have questions about Salmonellosis.

Get more information on the Maine CDC website.

October 26, 2021

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Announces Initial Actions in Response to Casey Family Programs Recommendations To Improve Child Safety

Steps in the short run include strengthening coordination with child welfare partners, improving engagement with families and parents, and updating policies for standby and after-hours staffing

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services today announced actions to improve the safety of Maine children and families in response to the recommendations of Casey Family Programs, a national leader in child wellbeing.

These include strengthening communications and coordination with child welfare partners, improving engagement with families and parents, and updating policies for standby and after-hours staffing.

The Department has closely reviewed Casey’s report and is immediately starting work on over half of the recommendations, which includes both new actions and advancing work already begun in response to child fatalities reported in June and as part of its Strategic Plan developed in 2019 (PDF) and updated (PDF) in 2020.

“We share in the commitment of all Maine people to protect the health and wellbeing of children,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “These actions, supported by the expert and thorough review of Casey Family Programs, strengthen collaboration among partners who can help keep children safe and advance our work to improve the child welfare system now and over the long term.”

“There is no higher priority than keeping Maine children safe,” said Todd Landry, Director of the DHHS Office of Child and Family Services. “Our child welfare staff are devoted to this responsibility and we continue to do all we can to support them in their critical work, including incorporating Casey’s science-based recommendations into our ongoing improvements.”

The Department’s immediate actions include:

  • Working with hospitals and law enforcement, including the Maine Department of Public Safety and legal experts to ensure robust and timely sharing of information to support child welfare staff in making decisions regarding the safety of children who are in the care of their parents or guardians. By January, template protocol agreements and training will be established that support the confidentiality and rights of families and children while improving information flow to support child safety (recommendation #2).
  • Collaborating with behavioral health providers and legal experts to develop guidance for clinicians who serve parents involved in the child welfare system to improve information sharing about children’s health and safety while supporting parents’ mental health or treatment for substance use disorders. This will be completed this winter and advance work the Department has begun through its Family First Prevention Services Plan, including expanding the availability of evidence-based prevention and intervention services (recommendation #1).
  • Finalizing by November 2021 an updated policy for family team meetings that clarifies guidance to child welfare staff on criteria for convening, facilitating and documenting the meetings to best support child safety. The Department has worked since July with the Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine to update this policy and a draft has already been reviewed by the Maine Child Welfare Advisory Panel, including the Child Welfare Ombudsman, and Office of Child and Family Services staff (recommendation #3).
  • Further evaluating standby and after hours staffing to incorporate national best practices. The Department convened a workgroup with district staff earlier this year that resulted in practice changes in October, including increasing staffing on weekends and holidays, building in flexibility in the lengths of shifts, clarifying expectations for ongoing case assignments, and better defining the roles of the caseworker and supervisors providing coverage. The Department will reconvene this workgroup to identify further improvements to standby/after-hours practices for consideration in January and continue working with Casey Family Programs to learn about the practices of other states (recommendation #5).
  • Increasing engagement with parents by adding parents with lived experience in child welfare to training teams and system improvement processes by January to, in part, assist with developing a parent mentor program. This builds on the Department’s previous work with parents who were involved in the child welfare system in advising on policy and educating staff and resource (foster) parents (recommendation #4).

Planning is underway to respond to the remaining recommendations as well as ideas from others, including OCFS staff, on child welfare system improvements. The Department is committed to collaborating with the Health and Human Services Committee of the Maine State Legislature on any additional actions that would require legislation.

The Department in July 2021 asked Casey Family Programs to assist in the investigation of four child deaths that had occurred during the previous month. Following that announcement, the Department subsequently asked Casey to review a fifth death. The five children, who were all four years or younger, died from accidents or serious injuries. The deaths occurred on June 1 in Brewer, on June 6 in Old Town, on June 17 in Temple, on June 20 in Stockton Springs, and on June 24 in Windham. In addition to offering key findings from the review, the Department asked Casey to offer interim policy recommendations that could be implemented by the State of Maine to support child and family safety.

Casey partnered with Collaborative Safety, an organization that uses safety science methods to conduct critical incident reviews, to conduct the independent assessment on the expedited timeline required by the Department. Casey has partnered with Collaborative Safety to conduct such reviews in other child welfare jurisdictions throughout the country.

Founded in 1966, Casey Family Programs works in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and with tribal nations across North America to influence long-lasting improvements to the well-being of children, families and the communities where they live.

Casey’s review included the staff and leadership of the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services, the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman, partner agency staff, law enforcement, and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

Following the deaths, the Department updated its child fatality notification process to include the Child Welfare Ombudsman and began publicly releasing on a quarterly basis aggregate information on child fatalities in Maine. It also has supported other investigations into the recent fatalities including that of the Child Welfare Ombudsman and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, whose preliminary report is due in January.

In 2019, Maine adopted a Child & Family Services Strategic Plan following a comprehensive evaluation by the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) and other stakeholders, which includes improvements in policies and practices to ensure child safety; expanded staffing and training; increased focus on family wellbeing; and a sharper focus on permanency, which means limiting the time a child is in a temporary placement. OCFS has added about 60 additional staff since the plan’s implementation. Its update of the child welfare information system called Katahdin, which is on schedule and on budget, will improve informed decision making and coordination starting in 2022. Recognizing that substance use disorders harm children and families, and the pandemic has induced mental health challenges as well, the Department has also expanded its support through programs like MaineMOM and StrengthenME.

Furthermore, Maine is implementing its Federal Family First Prevention Services Act plan following approval in September 2021 from the federal government, which will expand prevention services to help keep children and families healthy and safe and prevent the need for children to come into the care and custody of the State. Maine, the first New England state to gain approval to implement Family First, will receive approximately $2.4 million in federal funding annually.

Anyone concerned about child abuse or neglect should call DHHS’ 24-hour hotline at 1-800-452-1999. Calls may be made anonymously.