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Maine Gov. Janet Mills has announced the formation of a team to coordinate statewide efforts in response to the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and the state's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory is gearing up to begin testing for the virus.

“While there are no cases of coronavirus in Maine as of today, and the risk to our state remains low, the State must be prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to any potential cases in Maine,” Mills said. “The Coronavirus Response Team, led by Dr. [Nirav] Shah, will build on our preparation and response efforts, coordinate across state government and ensure that we are taking every precaution necessary in partnership with local health officials, hospitals, school districts, municipalities and others to make sure Maine is fully prepared and to fully inform and protect all Maine people.”

Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the state had monitoring and preparing for the virus since it was first identified in China in December 2019.

“Since then, more than 30 Maine CDC staff members have been focused on protecting the health of Maine people by updating safety protocols, upgrading the state lab so that testing can soon be performed here, and working closely with hospitals, medical providers, EMS, and other partners," Shah said. "As we keep working to minimize the risk of community spread, the best thing Maine people can do is take common sense steps to stay healthy, such as frequent hand washing.”

The response team, which also includes commissioners of the Departments of Health and Human Services; Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management; Public Safety; Education; Corrections; Labor; Transportation; and Administrative and Financial Affairs, is building on work already undertaken by the Maine CDC.

As far as testing, samples from Maine residents are being sent to the federal level CDC until Maine is able to get going on its testing program.

"In response to the expansion of federal criteria, more individuals in Maine are being tested," the Maine CDC said in a news release. "Maine CDC has received new testing equipment, and state lab staff are calibrating it and taking other steps to prepare for testing within the next several days. In the meantime, approximately a dozen samples from individuals in Maine are being sent to the U.S. CDC lab for testing. Results are pending."

– The Center Square