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Maine has temporarily closed an emergency operations center in Augusta that has hosted news conferences featuring Gov. Janet Mills after seven employees started showing symptoms of the coronavirus between Wednesday and Thursday, including fever, chills and muscle aches.
The center is now temporarily conducting all operations remotely. The symptomatic workers are staying home and being tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Three of the employees who showed symptoms work for MEMA, two work for Maine CDC and two work for the Maine Army National Guard, the agencies announced on Thursday. Their test results are expected within 24 hours. The Maine CDC is now identifying people who had close contact with those employees and advising them on precautions, the agencies said.
Mills and senior officials including Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah and MEMA Director Peter Rogers, have not been in close contact with the employees. They have also not shown symptoms of the COVID-19, so they have not been tested for the disease, Shah said in a Thursday news conference.
The closed emergency operations center is a large part of a massive office building in north Augusta that also houses the labor and public safety departments. While the center normally would hold as many as 70 workers at once, its occupancy has been sharply reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogers said during the news conference, which was held virtually.
Its occupancy has generally been 14 people in recent weeks, with all workers maintaining a distance of more than six feet from each other, Rogers said. The seven workers now showing flu-like symptoms each worked in “different pods of tables,” he said.
Before the new measures on Thursday, Shah said he generally spent a portion of every day in the MEMA building, given the convenience of attending news conferences down the hall and because some colleagues also work there. Even then, he tried to minimize how much in-person contact he had with them, he said.
“Even within the workplace, we do Zoom calls with people who may only be 20 feet away, just to minimize the amount of face-to-face interaction that we’ve got,” Shah said.
MEMA has taken other precautions meant to limit any potential spread of COVID-19 in the operations center, including stepping up cleaning procedures and requiring temperature checks and hand sanitization for anyone entering, it said.
Watch: Nirav Shah on tracing the origins of coronavirus cases in Maine