PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine temporarily closed its state emergency operations center after seven employees showed coronavirus symptoms, forcing the remaining staff to begin conducting operations remotely on Thursday.
The seven workers represented half of the staff working in the center during the pandemic, Peter Rogers, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said during a video call.
“There is no interruption in the state response to the pandemic. We have backup staff that will fill into the roles when people do get sick. We are continuing to complete all of our core missions,” he said.
Three employees work for Maine Emergency Management Agency, two work for Maine Center for Disease Control and two work for the Maine Army National Guard, the agencies said.
Test results are expected within 24 hours. The entire office is being cleaned, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC.
The daily briefing on Thursday was conducted with Rogers and Shah at different locations instead of at the operations center.
Other coronavirus developments in Maine:
Another 24,500 individuals have filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week - more than double the number of claims the previous week, the Maine Department of Labor said Thursday.
The large number of claims is suspicious, coming off a week in which 11,500 individuals filed claims for assistance, officials said.
“We believe these higher numbers are evidence of the organized crime of unemployment impostor fraud, which many states are experiencing,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said.
All told, there were a combined 37,000 claims for state unemployment and pandemic assistance for the week ending May 23, topping the previous high of 34,000 claims during the week ending April 4, officials said.
To date, the department has canceled about 2,200 unemployment claims because of fraud. The department is investigating another 1,000 cases for potential fraud.
The Maine Center for Disease Control reported three more deaths and another 52 positive tests for the new conronavirus.
That brings the total number of deaths to 84 and the total number of cases to 2,189, the Maine CDC reported Thursday.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Three Maine companies are suing the Small Business Administration for denying them federal Paycheck Protection Program loans because they are in bankruptcy.
A hotel and restaurant in Camden and trucking and logging companies in Cornville say there is nothing in the federal law that prohibits companies in bankruptcy from receiving the loans.
Two Maine hospitals that are in bankruptcy also sued after being denied loans under the program.
The Payroll Protection Program was adopted to help small businesses cover payroll and other costs during the pandemic.
Memorial Day weekend traffic was down compared to past year for the holiday that marks the unofficial start of the summer tourism season in the state, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Half the number of vehicles traveled through toll plazas compared to the same period last year, said Peter Mills, the authority’s executive director.
The decline was most extreme at the state’s gateway toll plaza in York, indicating fewer tourists from southern New England were hitting the road over the holiday weekend, Mills said.
The authority had predicted fewer people would be traveling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most events across the state were closed, and out-of-state visitors are required to quarantine.
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