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Maine CDC considers universal testing for all congregate care workers

The Maine CDC is studying whether to order universal testing for all congregate care staff statewide, to determine how many currently have the coronavirus.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s next big step to fight COVID-19 may be universal testing for a specific group of front line workers: nursing home staff.

New cases of the virus continue to appear each day—primarily in Maine's three southern counties, Cumberland, York, and Androscoggin—although the current number of active cases is down slightly from last week.

The Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) says one of the prime sources of new cases continues to be congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes, assisted living centers, and shelters. And while Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah says, it takes a long time to track down specific sources of those outbreaks. 

It is clear, however, that staff members are the only people regularly going in and out of the homes. As a result, he said Monday the Maine CDC is studying whether to order universal testing for all congregate care staff statewide, to determine how many currently have the virus.

Watch the complete Maine CDC briefing for Monday:

"It's under extremely active discussion," Dr. Shah said. "My thinking is, although testing is greater than it was we now have to think about where to employ increased capacity, and one of the highest value groups would be more widespread testing of staff in any congregate care setting”.

Dr. Shah said the Maine CDC lab has the current capacity to conduct about 1,000 tests per day, so with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 staff workers statewide, he says they would need to do the testing over several weeks and might need to use private labs to assist. 

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He said there is no final decision yet, and that part of the discussion is what to do to fill staff shortages if a large number at a facility test positive.

It's all part of the evaluation process, Dr. Shah said, but repeated that the idea of universal testing of staff is “a very active discussion right now.”

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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