The state has partnered with a Maine-based company to buy enough of its coronavirus testing kits to more than triple the state’s testing capacity, meaning that anyone in Maine suspected of having the virus will be able to get a test, Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday.
The state is buying enough test kits from IDEXX Laboratories Inc. to run at least 5,000 tests per week for the foreseeable future, Mills said.
“This changes everything,” Mills said at a news conference. She said as a result of the new testing capacity, “we do expect to update the plan to restart Maine’s economy very soon.”
Health Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the $720,000 contract with IDEXX will cover at least 5,000 tests per month for several months and is funded through the federal coronavirus relief package.
The tests will add to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s current capacity of 2,000 tests per week. These tests are in addition to those conducted for Maine residents by non-governmental labs in and outside of the state.
The tests will be run at Maine CDC’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta. Additional staff will be hired to support the expansion.
Other developments in Maine:
The state reported 76 more confirmed or likely cases of the coronavirus on Thursday.
The total number of COVID-19 deaths stood at 62, according to the Maine CDC. The total number of confirmed or likely cases stood at 1,330, it said.
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, or death.
A Portland meat processing plant where 51 workers tested positive for the coronavirus has reopened at one-quarter of its capacity, state health officials said Thursday.
The Tyson Foods plant, which shut down last Friday after an outbreak was discovered, was getting back to business after all workers and contractors were tested, a spokesman said.
The company relaxed its attendance policy to encourage the workforce, mostly made of up immigrants, to stay home if they are feeling sick. Tyson has paid workers while the plant was idle.
The 51 workers are roughly one-fifth of the 390 full-time workers. The Maine CDC continues to investigate the plant’s outbreak.
Maine labor officials said Thursday that more people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week than in the previous week.
Labor officials said 16,175 people filed, an increase following a three-week decline. Last week, over 7,600 people filed initial claims.
About 10,500 of those claims can be attributed to the implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program included in the relief bills passed by Congress.
More than 82,000 public school students in Maine are eligible for free or reduced-price meals as part of a new federal program aimed at helping families cope with the pandemic.
Maine is among 20 states participating in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which was signed into law on March 18. Many of the eligible students already receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
“I’m grateful for this move, which is another critical component of our plan to keep Maine’s children healthy,” she said.
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