Gov. Janet Mills announces that one person has tested positive for coronavirus in Maine, during a news conference at the State House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is at right. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, 23 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and nine others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills declared a civil emergency on Sunday as the state announced seven confirmed positive tests of the coronavirus with another five likely cases over four days, including a couple that lives in a Falmouth retirement community.

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Mills’ emergency order allows the governor to assume more power over the outbreak, including suspending the enforcement of laws, establishing emergency reserves of certain products and entering into mutual aid agreements with other states or countries. It also allows the state to access federal funding to mitigate the outbreak.

Mills recommended stopping classroom instruction in Maine — though many have announced they will close this week — and halting gatherings of more than 50 people or 10 people if seniors are involved. The Democratic governor has not gone as far as some counterparts or moved to close state government.

At a news conference on Sunday evening, Mills said while the emergency order allows her to order the closure of restaurants or other private businesses, she did not see “a need to order such actions when people are listening to the recommendations and doing what they should be doing.”

“Things are likely to get worse before they get better, but they will get better and together, we will get through this,” Mills said.

It comes as the cases in the state quickly ramp up with the increasing availability of testing for the coronavirus, which can cause flu-like symptoms progressing to pneumonia. Maine announced seven confirmed cases of the virus in the state on Sunday, with another five people registering positive in tests analyzed by a private laboratory.

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That latter group of patients includes a man in his 80s who lives at Oceanview at Falmouth, a senior living community, who is being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland, and his wife, as well as a health care worker in her 40s from Lincoln County who is isolated at home.

The Falmouth case is particularly worrying. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said there is evidence of “community spread” in Cumberland County, meaning the virus is likely being transmitted to and by people who have not traveled internationally. Shah expected this to continue into other parts of Maine.

Older people and those with pre-existing health conditions are also more likely to die or face serious illness after contracting the virus. The population of Maine — the oldest state by median age — is more vulnerable to serious illness from the virus than that of all but one other state, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Nationally, there have been 2,752 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus and 59 related deaths as of Saturday, according to The New York Times. The World Health Organization has called the virus a pandemic and has tallied nearly 154,000 cases and 5,700 deaths worldwide.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...