In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. Credit: John Minchillo | AP

As of 11 a.m. Friday, March 20, 44 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 12 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 — A tight supply of a key substance needed to test for the novel coronavirus is causing Maine to look to private laboratories and the university system for more, health officials said Friday.

The country is in a shortage of reagents, chemicals that isolate and identify the genetic identity of the virus, which is needed to complete the test. The lack of the substance — along with high demand for more basic equipment such as throat swabs and masks — has caused testing slowdown in other states. Maine is no different, said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director Nirav Shah on Friday during a press conference.

The state is expected to receive four additional vials of reagents soon, which would expand the state’s testing capability by several hundreds, Shah said. To keep up with the demand for testing, he said the state has reached out to the University of Maine System, as well as private labs such as Idexx Laboratories Inc. and The Jackson Laboratory, to see if they can purchase the chemical.

But the problem goes beyond supply.

“The enzymes are very particular to the machine being used,” Shah said. He later added: “This will be a challenge for us, not just in Maine but nationwide. … Bottom line, we’re concerned about it.”

Shah said the state’s partners will be looking nationally or even beyond to increase supplies.

California has seen a slowdown while it tries to obtain the reagents. Harvard Medical School recently sent out a plea asking for donations of the compound, and a lab in Utah recently stopped accepting out-of-state orders for the test, in part because of the shortage.

The state has recently received an influx of other materials used in testing including 600 probes and primers that are also part of the genetic material matching process and safety equipment such as masks and face shields. But a test cannot be completed without the reagents.

It’s part of the reason why not everyone who wants to get tested can do so, which has led to confusion for some Mainers and health care providers to be careful of who they test, even as private labs are increasing their capacity. Shah said the state is prioritizing tests for high-risk populations, including those who are health care providers, first responders, those who live in congregate settings, the elderly and those with chronic conditions.

Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease