Maine CDC Press Release

March 27, 2020

Maine Records First Death of Individual Who Tested Positive for COVID-19

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) today reported the first death of an individual who had tested positive for the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The individual was a man in his 80s from Cumberland County. Due to privacy laws, Maine CDC is limited in releasing further details.

"This is a sad day for the State of Maine. I know I join countless people in extending my condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones during this difficult time," said Governor Janet Mills. "Our state is a family. And while we mourn the loss of a member of our Maine family today, I find strength and solace in knowing that we will support one another and that, together, we will get through this."

Governor Mills will join Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC, for a news conference at 11:30 a.m. today at the Maine Emergency Management Agency, 45 Commerce Drive, Suite 2, Augusta.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and lower respiratory distress. Individuals who exhibit those symptoms are advised to contact medical providers before going to a health care facility. Medical providers will make initial determinations about who should be tested.

Maine people can protect their health by taking the same preventive measures that help to avoid catching a cold: Wash your hands often for 20 seconds. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you are sick. In Maine and nationwide, the public is advised to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, which include avoiding crowds, staying 6 feet away from others, not shaking hands or hugging, and using phones or other media to chat with friends and loved ones rather than meeting face to face.

As of March 26 at noon, the Maine CDC had recorded 155 positive tests and 3,394 negative tests for COVID-19, and the U.S. CDC was reporting 994 deaths of individuals in the United States who tested positive for COVID-19.

For more information

  • Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on COVID-19:
  • Dial 211(or 1-866-811-5695)
  • Text your ZIP code to 898-211
  • Email info@211maine.org
  • 211 is TTY and Video Relay accessible if calling from Maine
  • Visit www.maine.gov/dhhs/coronavirus.

April 30, 2020

Maine DHHS Seeks Federal Flexibility to Support Adults with Disabilities and Older Mainers in the Face of COVID-19

Request includes funding to retain Direct Support Professionals

AUGUSTA –The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (Maine DHHS) announced today that it has submitted a waiver amendment to the federal government requesting flexibility to continue providing critical services to adults with disabilities and older Mainers in their homes and communities in the face of COVID-19, which would help providers to retain and support their direct care staff.

"Adults with disabilities and older Mainers continue to rely on these vital services and the direct support professionals who provide them in the face of this pandemic," said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. "We join the majority of states in seeking this flexibility and support from the federal government to ensure that more than 5,600 Maine people continue to be supported in their homes and communities throughout the state during this public health emergency."

The DHHS Offices of MaineCare Services and Aging and Disability Services on Tuesday submitted an Appendix K waiver amendment to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which states may utilize to temporarily bolster providers of home- and community-based services and respond to changing needs of Medicaid members during times of emergency. Maine's waiver amendment will support adults with physical or intellectual disabilities, brain injuries and other related conditions, and older Mainers.

DHHS has requested flexibility to increase reimbursement rates by 10% for the most highly utilized direct care services for these populations, with the expectation that providers will use most of this financial relief to retain and support their direct care staff, such as by offering hazard pay. The increase, totaling nearly $13 million in state and federal funds, would be retroactive to March 1, 2020 and continue through April and May 2020. Providers will report to the Department on how they spend the increase within 30 days of the end of the emergency.

The MaineCare services included under this amendment are:

  • Section 18, Home and Community-Based Services for Adults with Brain Injury
  • Section 19, Home and Community Benefits for the Elderly and Adults with Disabilities
  • Section 20, Home and Community-Based Services for Adults with Other Related Conditions
  • Section 21, Home and Community Benefits for Members with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Section 29, Support Services for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder

DHHS has additionally requested through the amendment to:

  • Allow relatives or spouses to provide services and receive payment, when hired or contracted by a provider agency
  • Increase reimbursement for home-delivered meals, from one meal a day to two
  • Reimburse providers for taking steps to safely isolate COVID-19 positive residents, either in their existing facilities or in separate facilities, in accordance with U.S. CDC guidelines
  • Allow shared living settings to expand to up to three individuals
  • Encourage the use of telehealth to fill service gaps when people cannot be served face-to-face
  • With DHHS approval, allow members to exceed some service limits, including hours of service provided and charges relating to assistive technology, to promote use of telehealth
  • Allow services to be provided in alternative settings (e.g. hotels, shelters, schools, churches, etc.) when necessary to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

DHHS will work with CMS over the next few weeks toward approval.

The Appendix K waiver amendment follows the Mills Administration's earlier actions to accelerate pay increases for personal care workers, expand access to meals for older Mainers who are home-bound because of COVID-19, and help intermediate care facilities address extra costs associated with COVID-19.

DHHS is also conducting outreach to group living facilities about infection control policies, completing this week communication to 107 assisted living facilities and adult family care homes, which will be followed by communication to residential care homes for older persons and agencies that provide homes for adults with intellectual disability. As with similar outreach to nursing facilities, this work will inform DHHS about the needs of organizations operating group living settings.

May 5, 2020

Maine People Urged to Take Precautions Against Browntail Moth Hairs When Outside

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine remind the public to take precautions now that browntail moth caterpillars are emerging from their webs in trees. The caterpillars are covered with tiny hairs, which are shed and can become airborne, potentially causing a skin reaction like poison ivy and trouble breathing if inhaled.

Many Mainers are spending increased time outdoors for recreation and yard maintenance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may put them at increased risk of contact with these toxic hairs. All counties in southern, midcoast, Down East, and south-central Maine are at some risk of browntail moth exposure.

The greatest risk for exposure to the toxic hairs is from now through July when the moths are active. The hairs can land anywhere, including on trees, gardens, lawns, and decks. The hairs remain toxic in the environment for one to three years, and can be stirred up by activities like mowing, raking, and sweeping.

Most affected individuals develop a localized rash that lasts from a few hours to several days. In more sensitive individuals, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by exposure to browntail moth hairs. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and eliminating ongoing exposure.

Browntail moth caterpillars are easy to identify. They are dark brown with white stripes along the sides and two red-orange dots on the back. Younger caterpillars may lack the white stripes.

Steps Mainers can take to protect themselves from browntail moth hairs:

  • Avoid places infested by caterpillars.
  • When performing activities outdoors that may stir up caterpillar hairs:
    • Choose damp days or wet vegetation with a hose. The moisture helps keep the hairs from becoming airborne.
    • Cover face with a respirator, if available, and goggles.Take extra care to avoid activities that stir up hairs.
      • If respirators are difficult to obtain, perform outdoor activities with a cloth face covering, which may reduce the risk of inhaling caterpillar hairs.
    • Wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles.
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in infested areas.
  • Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs embedding into clothing.

For more information:

Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths:

  • Dial 211 (or 207-874-2211)
  • Text your ZIP code to 898-211

May 12, 2020

Mills Administration Launches Campaign to Remind Maine People to Explore Their Health Coverage Options in the Face of COVID-19

Those who have lost a job or income can visit CoverME.gov to learn more and apply

AUGUSTA- The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) today launched a statewide campaign to promote awareness of affordable health insurance options, particularly for people whose employment or income has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DHHS is launching a special outreach campaign to remind Maine people about CoverME.gov, a resource for finding affordable health insurance options, in response to the changing economic circumstances caused by the pandemic. Maine residents who have recently lost a job or income may also lose their health insurance provided through their employer or now be struggling to afford their monthly insurance premium. Many of these individuals may qualify for a free or low-cost plan through MaineCare (Maine Medicaid) or the federal marketplace.

The statewide campaign will include digital, social media, and television advertisements, with ads beginning this week and continuing through June.

Maine DHHS is also collaborating with the Maine Department of Labor to inform those applying for unemployment insurance that they may be eligible for affordable health insurance options.

"From expanding Medicaid early on to signing into law the Made for Maine Health Coverage Act, my Administration has always fought to expand access to affordable health care for Maine people," said Governor Janet Mills. "COVID-19 further underscores the importance of having health insurance. I urge Maine people, particularly those who may have lost income or health insurance as a result of the pandemic, to visit CoverME.gov to find options to protect their health and help them care for their families."

"Maine people may qualify for affordable health coverage options, especially those who have lost jobs or income because of the COVID-19 pandemic," said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. "We urge Maine people to visit CoverME.gov to understand their options and sign up. Today more than ever, coverage is critical to ensuring access to needed health care."

Maine people can learn more at CoverME.gov or call Consumers for Affordable Health Care at 1-800-965-7476 for free, local help.

Most Maine people are eligible for insurance through MaineCare if their annual income is less than $17,609 for a single person or $36,156 for a family of four. Maine people with incomes above the MaineCare threshold but less than $51,040 for a single person or less than $103,000 for a family of four may be eligible for lower monthly premiums on HealthCare.gov.

Eligible Maine people may enroll in MaineCare at any time of year. More than 53,000 people are now enrolled through the expansion of MaineCare under Governor Mills - an increase of over 10 percent since April 1, 2020.

To apply through HealthCare.gov, individuals currently must qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. Losing health insurance through a job should allow individuals to sign up for private insurance if they apply within 60 days. Governor Mills recently joined a coalition of Governors from 11 other states in asking the Trump Administration to take swift action to allow for a broader Special Enrollment Period to ease access to critical health care in the face of COVID-19.

Additionally, Maine people who already have coverage through the Marketplace but expect to earn less in 2020 should update their income estimate, since they may qualify for more financial help to afford their plan or for MaineCare.

The statewide campaign announced today builds on the Mills Administration's ongoing work to reduce Maine's uninsured rate and ensure that all eligible Maine people enroll in coverage. DHHS will conduct another advertising campaign in the fall to coincide with the HealthCare.gov open enrollment period.

Governor Mills declared an insurance emergency on March 12, 2020 to improve access to care and require private health insurance plans to cover costs related to coronavirus testing. The Superintendent of Insurance, Eric Cioppa, has ordered that private, fully insured plans pay the full costs of COVID-19 testing and issued an order deferring premium deadlines to assist consumers in maintaining health coverage. MaineCare covers the costs of COVID-19 testing and has increased access to care by waiving all copays for prescriptions, office visits, emergency department visits, radiology and lab services and allowing early refills of prescriptions, among other measures.

The Mills Administration has taken additional steps to bolster the health care workforce, expand telehealth services, and spearhead recent legislation to improve private health insurance for Maine people and small businesses.

May 13, 2020

Maine CDC Urges Precautions Against Tickborne Diseases

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

AUGUSTA &ndash The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) urges Maine people to take precautions against ticks during May, Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

This year's Lyme Disease Awareness Month theme is "Tick Tock," which reminds Mainers to slow down and take time to practice tick and tickborne disease prevention. Deer ticks, which can carry the germs that cause tickborne diseases such as Lyme, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, are most commonly found in wooded, leafy, and shrubby areas, meaning most Mainers are at risk every day. Individuals and families spending more time outdoors, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, should take steps to limit their exposure to ticks.

Ticks are already active in Maine. The following four strategies help to prevent exposure to ticks and the diseases they carry:

  1. Use caution in areas where ticks may be found.
  2. Use an EPA-approved repellent such as: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and 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.

Health care providers reported at least 2,150 confirmed and probable Lyme disease cases to Maine CDC in 2019. The most commonly reported symptom was an erythema migrans or "bullseye" rash. Other common symptoms include arthritis, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.

Maine CDC continues to help educate Mainers on ticks and tickborne diseases. Some of these activities include:

  • Educational Videos: Maine CDC has short videos on multiple tickborne disease topics. These include tick identification, how to perform a tick check, tickborne diseases, repellents, and how to choose a residential pesticide applicator. All videos can be viewed through Maine CDC's YouTube Channel at: www.youtube.com/MainePublicHealth.
  • Traditional and Social Media Messaging: Check out the CDC's Facebook (www.facebook.com/MaineCDC) and Twitter (twitter.com/MEPublicHealth) profiles. We will post information about ticks and tickborne diseases throughout the month. Find informational materials on the Maine CDC website (www.maine.gov/lyme/month).
  • Virtual Education: With in-person instruction suspended for the 2019-2020 school year, Maine CDC's 3rd through 8th grade tick education is now virtual. Video presentations, games, and activity books are available at: www.maine.gov/dhhs/schoolcurricula.

For more information, visit www.maine.gov/lyme

The Maine Tracking Network (MTN) offers a variety of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis data in the "Data Portal" at data.mainepublichealth.gov/tracking. It includes:

  • Near real-time tickborne disease data for 2020, and preliminary data for 2019.
  • Tickborne disease data at the town-level from 2014 to 2018.
    • The MTN will publish 2019 data early this summer.
  • Tickborne disease data by county, gender, and age for 2001-2018.
  • Tick submission data from 1989-2013, through a collaboration with the Maine Medical Center Research Institute's Vectorborne Disease Laboratory.

Tick identification and testing is available through the Tick Lab at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. More information can be found at ticks.umaine.edu.

  • Tick identification is available for free.
  • Tick testing is available for $15 with a three-day turnaround time. The tick testing service is available only to Maine residents.
  • This testing service is for surveillance purposes only. Contact your health care provider for concerns about tickborne illnesses.
  • Tick testing data are available as tables, reports, and maps, and include real-time updates. These data can be found at extension.umaine.edu/ticks/maine-tick-data/.

 

May 21, 2020

Maine CDC confirms COVID-19 outbreak at Cape Memory Care

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) today confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Cape Memory Care in Cape Elizabeth, a residential care facility for individuals with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. A total of 57 individuals associated with the facility had tested positive as of this evening.

After one individual associated with Cape Memory Care tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Maine CDC facilitated collection of samples from approximately 100 people affiliated with the facility. Those samples were sent to Maine CDC's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory for expedited testing. That testing revealed additional positive results today, for a total of 45 residents and 12 staff. Additional test results are pending.

Maine CDC's outbreak response team is working closely with Cape Memory Care staff to support the health of individuals associated with the care center. As is the protocol when an outbreak is confirmed, Maine CDC supplied additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection control guidance to the facility. Maine CDC is also working with the facility to support its staffing plan.

Representatives of Cape Memory Care informed Maine CDC that they alerted family members about the outbreak. Maine CDC facilitated universal testing at the facility after the first confirmed case due to its medically vulnerable population. With the expansion of its capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing at the state laboratory, Maine CDC today implemented a new policy for testing at congregate living settings.

Going forward, Maine CDC will facilitate universal testing at all congregate living facilities in Maine upon the first confirmed case. This updated policy was enabled by the recent major expansion of Maine's testing capacity, which allowed Maine CDC to eliminate its testing prioritization system. The agency will issue revised guidance through the Health Alert Network.

The additional cases at Cape Memory Care will be reflected in the COVID-19 data that Maine CDC will post on Friday, May 22, 2020.

The Mills Administration has taken numerous actions to support the state's congregate living settings. This includes being among the first states in the nation to conduct universal testing at nursing facilities when an outbreak of COVID-19 is confirmed. Maine provides an emergency cache of PPE to facilities with outbreaks and provides same-day support and guidance. Since March, the Maine CDC has hosted weekly calls for long-term care facilities to provide information and guidance. In recent weeks, DHHS intensified its engagement, including out facilities, virtual meetings with medical directors, and communications to all doctors and nurses in Maine on best practices for the safety of long-term care facility residents and staff.

May 22, 2020

Maine DHHS Announces Redesign of Website to Better Serve the Public

Phased rollout officially launches today, with further improvements planned for the coming weeks and months

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) today launched the first phase of a website redesign project that will modernize the Department's online presence and improve communication about critical programs and services provided to Maine people.

DHHS has begun building a new website thats more intuitive and useful for the public and providers, with a better design that prioritizes the information visitors most often seek, highlights updates about major initiatives and developments, and improves the experience for visitors accessing the website on mobile devices.

The project, which will roll out in phases over the coming weeks and months, marks the first full redesign of the DHHS website in more than two decades.

"Maine people rely on the DHHS website for information about programs and services that are critical to their lives," said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. This project will help visitors, including mobile users in rural areas with limited Internet access, find the information they need and learn about our work to support health, safety, resilience and opportunity for Maine people.

DHHS partnered on the project with InforME, which manages the Maine.gov Maine.gov website and previously redesigned the websites of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, among others.

The new website includes an updated homepage for DHHS, which highlights areas of high public interest, such as hotlines and crisis numbers, health insurance, child welfare, and news releases. Information on the DHHS response to the COVID-19 pandemic remains prominently displayed.

The new website also includes a redesigned homepage for the DHHS Office for Family Independence (OFI), which includes information on programs such as Food Supplement and MaineCare. The website redesign does not change how people apply for OFI programs. The application portal for those programs, My Maine Connection, is undergoing a separate project to improve applicants online experience.

In addition to OFI, DHHS will launch redesigned webpages for the remaining DHHS offices, such as the Office of Aging and Disability Services, the Office of MaineCare Services, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on a rolling basis over the next several weeks and months.

The DHHS and OFI homepages can still be found at their existing URLs: www.maine.gov/dhhs/ and www.maine.gov/dhhs/ofi/.