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Updated: July 17, 2020

Maine CDC investigates 3 new coronavirus outbreaks at Portland-area businesses

Screen shot of Dr. Nirav Shah and interpreter giving Thursday briefing Screen shot / Maine Public Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, at Thursday's press briefing on the latest investigations and case numbers.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating COVID-19 outbreaks at three workplaces in the Portland area and a pending outbreak at the Cumberland County Jail, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah announced on Thursday.

He said the agency is investigating outbreaks at clothing maker American Roots and Corsetti's restaurant, both in Westbrook, and at a Goodwill Northern New England warehouse in Gorham.

American Roots and Corsetti's are both temporarily closed, and a Goodwill Northern New England spokesperson told Mainebiz by email Friday that the organization had reopened its facility this morning after a "deep, deep cleaning and sanitizing."

The biggest reported outbreak is at American Roots, where 11 of 107 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Thursday, Shah said that his agency has been working closely with American Roots to conduct testing, one round of which had already been undertaken by the company while a second round is planned for next Tuesday.

He also said that his agency had worked with the company to complete preliminary contact tracing of the employees and the nature of any interactions they may have had within the workplace, and that there are resources in place for those who need support during self-quarantine.

"I'd like to commend the leadership of American Roots for being proactive in this situation," Shah said in Thursday's televised briefing, noting that the company had arranged for universal testing of all employees even before his agency's investigation.

"It is because they were proactive, sooner rather than later, that we now have the information we need to conduct a full investigation and respond to the needs of infected employees and their families." 

Shah noted that American Roots has now closed its factory three times for deep cleaning during the pandemic.

American Roots, an apparel and blanket maker that's been producing face masks and face shields during the pandemic, is run by founders Ben Waxman and Whitney Reynolds.

Ben Waxman and Whitney Reynolds at American Roots in Westbrook with face masks on.
Courtesy / American Roots
Ben Waxman and Whitney Reynolds, photographed at the factory inside Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook in May.

They announced on Thursday that the factory remains closed for extensive cleaning and sanitizing and will reopen at the recommendation of the Maine CDC.

Waxman and Reynolds said in a statement that when the factory reopens, shipping protocols will be "stringently followed" in accordance with CDC guidelines, with all products inspected, bagged and sealed before being boxed up and sent to customers.

"As you can imagine, the situation is taxing on all of us, especially our team members who have been directly affected by this virus," Waxman and Reynolds said. "We count on them day in and day out, and we want them to know they can count on us, even when times are tough."

As for the other businesses with cases, Dr. Shah said that the management of Corsetti's has voluntary closed the restaurant where three employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and that Maine CDC has recommended that all employees be tested.

In a statement on its website, Corsetti's said it has decided to temporarily close out of an abundance of caution after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, although the restaurant was not required by the state to do so. "Above all, we value the health of our community. During this closure, we will be thoroughly disinfecting, and staff members who may have had exposure will be tested," the restaurant said.

Corsetti's has been in business since 1974.

In statement posted online Thursday, Goodwill confirmed that it had four positive coronavirus cases over a two-week period in Gorham, with three employees approved to return to work and the fourth quarantining at home and doing well. The individuals are not in positions which interact with the public and have very limited interaction with our other staff members, it said.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, our top priority is keeping our team members and customers safe," Goodwill said in its statement. "We have implemented CDC and state-recommended protocols, including but not limited to safe social distancing, the use of PPE, frequent sanitizing and pre-work employee screenings. This has been our policy from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and we continue to follow the guidelines set by the states where we operate."

Shah said Thursday his agency will work with the nonprofit organization to determine where the transmission occurred.

Concerning the investigation at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Shah said serial rounds of retesting were being conducted as the state also looks into infection-control practices at that facility.

Case count update

Shah said the 11 cases of COVID-19 at American Roots were not reflected in Thursday's numbers, which showed that Maine has had a total of 3,598 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak in March, an increase of 20 cases since Wednesday. 

Of that total, 3,207 were confirmed as positive and 391 are probable. Maine has also recorded 114 deaths from COVID-19 and 374 hospitalizations.

Among 13 people currently hospitalized in Maine, 11 are in intensive care units and four are on ventilators. A total of 3,094 individuals have recovered.  

During Thursday's briefing, Shah noted that 844 COVID-19 cases in Maine had been among health care workers.

Shah said that while Maine is doing well in comparison with many other states, that could change "if we let our guard down," and that asking people from out of state to get tested before coming to Maine "is really essential."

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