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Maine DHHS Press / News Release
March 25, 2020
Maine DHHS Releases Further Information About Closure of Lewiston Office
COVID-19 confirmed in employee, close contacts will be notified
AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) closed the DHHS regional office in Lewiston today in response to a confirmed case of COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with state protocols.
DHHS closed the office to staff and clients after being notified this morning of an employee's positive test result. Due to recent actions taken by DHHS to limit the number of staff in the building to prevent COVID-19 spread, only about 25 percent of the office's staff were in the building, and only four clients visited the office yesterday, down from an average of over 140 daily client visits earlier this month. As part of its investigation, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention will notify anyone who may have had close contact with the employee and advise them on appropriate precautions, including whether testing is necessary. This make take days to complete as multiple case investigations are ongoing. If an employee develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should contact their health care professional.
The affected employee's role neither involves visiting clients at their homes nor significantly engaging with the public in the Lewiston office. In order to abide by privacy requirements, DHHS is unable to release any further information about this case.
DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah announced the case this morning at a daily media briefing on COVID-19.
"I closed the Maine Department of Health and Human Services' Lewiston office this morning because of a case of COVID-19," said Lambrew at the briefing. "In so doing, I followed protocols developed for all state employees and communicated last week to ensure that those employees, their partners, the providers in the community, and mostly the people we serve are safe... My heart goes out to my workers and the workers throughout Maine, the families throughout Maine, who have been affected, because this does hit home."
"Maine CDC's investigation is under way," said Shah at the briefing. "Our top priority in these situations is always to ensure the health and safety of the public, as well as our employees, within any unit of state government."
Shah added that measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be taken regardless of the setting, including maintaining physical distance, staying home if you're not feeling well, and speaking to your health care provider if you experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, fever, and cough.
DHHS closed the Lewiston office according to protocols previously established by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services that apply to all state government facilities affected by a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Also in line with those protocols, the Lewiston office building will be cleaned and sanitized according to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parts of the office may reopen in the coming days.
Other DHHS offices remain open at this time to continue providing critical benefits and services to Maine people.
Last week, DHHS announced steps to support physical distancing in our 16 regional offices, without disrupting critical benefits and services. In line with guidance from the U.S. CDC, DHHS limited interactions with the public to accepting paperwork for drop-off. As previously scheduled, effective today, the Department's 16 regional offices are open to the public only for paperwork drop-offs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Clients have been encouraged to fill out and submit applications and reviews for programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and MaineCare online through MyMaineConnection. Paperwork may be submitted via fax, email or postal carrier. Clients are strongly encouraged to sign-up for paperless noticing through MyMaineConnection to decrease delays in delivery of critical benefit updates. The toll-free number is 1 (855) 797-4357 and agents are available from 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Most DHHS staff are now working remotely, as part of the Mills Administration's response to COVID-19. The Department of Administrative and Financial Services estimates that approximately 70 percent of State employees - excluding emergency and public safety personnel are currently working remotely. Governor Mills has urged Maine people to avail themselves of the state's online services and resources during this public health emergency.