Bradley Mattes, associate nurse leader at Central Maine Medical Center, questions patients at the emergency entrance to the hospital, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine. "I refer to myself as the Walmart greeter of nurses," said Mattes, who questions patients to determine if their symptoms indicate the need for testing for the coronavirus or other medical attention. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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More than 15 percent of those with confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Maine are health care workers, Maine’s top public health official said Friday.

The figure underscores the risk health care workers face in treating the viral infection and the potential stress on the health care system if the numbers of infected health care workers continue to mount. Anyone who is infected also risks infecting those with whom they come into contact.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Seventy-five of the 432 Maine residents with confirmed coronavirus cases are health care workers, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday. That figure is up from 43 health care workers earlier this week. The 75 cases represent 17.4 percent of confirmed cases in the state.

Shah on Friday described some of the efforts the state has undertaken to secure more personal protective equipment for health care workers and others coming into contact with those who are infected.

The efforts come amid an international shortage of PPE that has forced some medical workers to reuse masks to extend the life of limited supplies. At one Maine hospital, the CEO recently told workers to treat supplies “like gold” and a nurse manager told employees to wear N95 masks for five days, if possible. Shah said earlier this week that the federal government has sent Maine only a “paltry” amount of protective equipment from a nearly depleted federal stockpile.

The state on Thursday ordered 300,000 KN95 masks from a Maine company that it is projected to receive April 20, Shah said. KN95 masks are an alternative to the better-known N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent of airborne particles.

In addition, Shah said, seven vans with a total of 109,000 pieces of PPE were distributing items around Maine on Friday to emergency responders, funeral homes, hospitals and congregate living settings. The idea was to distribute equipment where some of the most vulnerable patients are likely to be, such as nursing homes.

Shah said obtaining such items remains a challenge, as there is a worldwide shortage of items such as facemasks, ventilators, medical gloves, and protective body suits. But he said that Maine CDC has yet to find itself in a situation where it is competing against other states that may be offering more for such supplies, nor has it faced any prices that could be considered outrageously high examples of price gouging.

“That hasn’t occurred yet,” Shah said. “We haven’t experienced it and we would not entertain offers of equipment for exceedingly high prices.”

Physical distancing measures adopted in Maine appear to be slowing the spread of the disease, despite the jump overnight of more than 50 new cases, Shah said, but it is unknown how long the Maine supplies in the pipeline will last.

But he said the state does not plan to sit back and wait to find out. Hospitals continually keep Maine CDC apprised of their supplies on hand, and the agency continually seeks out the availability of all types of needed equipment to make sure that shipments arrive on a regular basis, before any supplies run out.

“They do not need to wait until their next regularly scheduled delivery until they get more,” Shah said. “We are taking these projections [for equipment needs] as far into the future as we can.”