DHHS expands public reporting  

AUGUSTA On Dec. 23, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the launch of a new text messaging service to alert Maine people who test positive for COVID-19 of steps to take to protect their health and limit the spread of the virus, as part of a comprehensive plan to adapt Maine’s response to the pandemic.  

People who test positive for COVID-19 and voluntarily provide their telephone number to their testing site will receive a text message from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) indicating that they should isolate for 10 days at home and inform close contacts of potential exposure to the virus. Recipients will also be directed to further information on the Maine CDC website. The message from Maine CDC will come from the number 22300.  

As previously announced, Maine CDC will continue to call people at greater risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, such as older Mainers, health care workers and people in congregate settings, and investigate their cases and notify their close contacts. All other people who test positive will receive the text message and a call from the DHHS Call Center.   

“This new tool will get information as rapidly as possible to people who test positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. “It should also allow their loved ones and other close contacts to begin quarantine as quickly as possible, which can help limit further spread of the virus.”  

The extra outreach comes as Maine CDC continues to process a significant backlog of test results, as announced earlier this month. Maine CDC is receiving a high volume of positive test results from the state lab and other labs, leading to delays in the next step in the process of assigning positive results to case investigators.   

In recent days, the reported case count has increased significantly as 3,500 positive test results from Dec.10 to present are reviewed to determine if they are new cases. Not all positive tests become a new case, as some are from people who test positive more than once and others are out-of-state residents whose results are reported to their state of residence.   

Maine CDC also announced that it is expanding its COVID-19 data dashboard to better reflect these changes. Newly added to the dashboard will be visualizations of the molecular test positivity rate and more granular, daily data on the number of test results received, including daily positive tests. Combined with the existing data on new cases assigned for investigation, this expanded testing data more precisely captures the spread of COVID-19 in Maine as Maine CDC continues to process the backlog.  

For example, on Dec. 23, Maine CDC reported an increase of 748 new cases of COVID-19. While this represents an all-time high, it includes cases with positive test results dating back to Dec. 8, which Maine CDC has now been able to review and assess case status. The expanded data dashboard shows 561 positive test results reported and a positivity rate of 4.28 percent, with both metrics gradually decreasing recently. Considered collectively, Maine’s metrics remain concerning but suggest that COVID-19 spread is beginning to ease in the state.   

Maine CDC currently has 135 people conducting case investigation and contract tracing and the DHHS Call Center has a total of 45 workers trained to help as contact tracers or case notifiers as needed for the short-term as Maine CDC brings on new people.   

It remains vital that Maine people take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, including avoiding gatherings, maintaining physical distance, wearing a face covering, staying home if sick and speaking to health care providers if experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, fever and cough.   

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