Gov. Janet Mills speaks Thursday during a news conference at the State House in Augusta. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is at her 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.

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday signed an order prohibiting sale of certain items at “unconscionable prices” during the coronavirus outbreak.

The order targets seven products regarded as necessities during the outbreak that has infected as many as 32 Maine residents: paper products, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, personal hygiene products, medicine and medical supplies, food and water.

That order limits sale of these products at no more than 15 percent of their price prior to the outbreak, and anyone who does sell them at “unconscionable prices” may face prosecution.

“The coronavirus is already making life difficult enough without bad actors trying to take advantage of Maine people by inflating prices for critical items,” Mills, a Democrat, said in a statement. “With allegations of price-gouging in our state rising, this declaration gives the Office of the Attorney General full authority to investigate price gouging claims and take swift action to address them.”

Complaints received so far by the attorney general’s office included one with a photo from a Portland convenience store that was selling toilet paper for $10 per roll, according to spokesman Marc Malon.

Another example the office is investigating is a report that 32-ounce bottles of isopropyl alcohol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizer, were being sold for $24 each. The bottles normally sell for between $2.50 and $4.50 at drug stores and discount stores.

“The calls have been ramping up and there are a number of complaints we need to investigate,” Malon said Tuesday. “The governor’s action will help us in these efforts.”

The Bangor police had received a “few complaints” about price gouging as of Tuesday but was not investigating them, according to Sgt. Wade Betters, spokesman for the department.

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The statewide order is the latest move the governor has taken in response to the growing outbreak of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. On Sunday, Mills declared a statewide civil emergency, allowing her office 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.

Many in Maine and across the country have flocked to stores to stock up on food and other supplies amid growing uneasy over the spreading coronavirus, which has sickened 4,226 people in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands and caused 75 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States Public Interest Research Group found in a study released earlier this month that prices on items such as hand sanitizer and face masks rose at least 50 percent as the virus became more widespread.

In response, officials in several states have instituted stronger measures against price gouging and online retailers like Amazon have cracked down on sellers accused of inflating prices.

BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.