Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday announced the state had reached a deal with Westbrook-based diagnostic company IDEXX Laboratories that would more than triple the state's testing capacity for the novel coronavirus.
Under the deal, IDEXX will provide enough tests so that some 5,000 additional Mainers can be tested per week, bringing the state's total testing capacity to 7,000 patients per week, Mills said.
"This changes everything," Mills said as she announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency approval of the test. "The expansion of testing is crucial to our gradual reopening of the economy."
The "breakthrough in capacity" will allow the state to eliminate its testing priority system and move toward universal testing in congregate settings such as nursing homes and shelters, helping contain outbreaks relatively quickly.
She said health care providers would now be able to test anyone they suspect could have COVID-19, including those with symptoms as well as anyone who comes in contact with a person with the disease, like a spouse.
The implications of that statement are broad. For one thing, the Idexx tests have almost no supply chain issues, according to Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah.
He also said that Maine eliminating its system of tiered testing priority could be a first among all the states in the nation.
Mills said the tests could become available as soon as early next week.
The governor said the deal was a major development in the state's efforts to safely reopen the economy and that an update on Maine's reopening plan could come "very soon."
Mills has faced increasing pressure to lift restrictions. Last month, protesters gathered outside Maine's State House and the governor's residence to protest stay-at-home orders.
The Maine Center for Disease Control "will better be able to gauge the prevalence of the virus throughout the state, and that data in turn will help inform the appropriateness of lifting certain restrictions safely," Mills said.
On Thursday, health officials reported 1,330 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 62 deaths.
Mills announced Wednesday that she had convened an economic recovery committee charged with developing recommendations on helping the state's economy recover from the pandemic, News Center Maine reported.
The committee will gather input from experts and industry sector representatives on the economic impact of the pandemic on Maine’s economy and offer specific policy recommendations to mitigate those impacts.
Maine labor officials said Thursday that more people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week than in the previous week.
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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.