Governor says $52.7 million in federal funding will expand lab and testing capacity

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 2:00pm

AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills announced Thursday the State of Maine has now received $52.7 million in Federal grant funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) to bolster epidemiological and laboratory capacity to respond to infectious diseases, particularly COVID-19.

Maine will use this funding to enhance its ability to prevent, detect, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Maine by expanding lab capacity and testing sites across Maine in the coming weeks and months, according to a news release.

“I am grateful to Maine’s Congressional Delegation for their advocacy on behalf of our state and people,” said Governor Janet Mills. “As a result of this funding, the State will expand our lab’s capacity, work with rural hospitals to enhance their testing capabilities, and stand up drive-through testing sites across Maine. This work is still in the initial stages and will take time over the coming weeks and months, but it would not be possible without the partnership of the Congressional Delegation.”

“We applaud Governor Mills for her Administration’s good work to expand testing and lab capacity in Maine,” said U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden. “Expanding this capacity will not only help protect Mainers’ health during this public health crisis, but also help safely reopen our communities. This $52.7 million federal investment will provide a substantial boost to Maine’s efforts to ramp up testing and help give our communities confidence as we work together to chart the path ahead for our state. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Governor moving forward.”

Governor Mills outlined the State’s three primary goals for the $52.7 million investment, including:

Expanding the State’s Lab Capacity: The State is aiming to expand, both in the short-and longer-term, capacity at the State’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL), including expanding physical space and increasing staffing to increase the number of testing options. In the longer-term, the State intends to accelerate the construction of its new laboratory in Augusta, which broke ground prior to COVID-19. Investing in a state-of-the-art laboratory facility in Maine will facilitate COVID-19 response, innovation, and public health generally.

Bolstering Rural Hospital Lab Capacity: COVID-19 has underscored the long-standing challenges rural residents face in accessing timely health care. Building on the Mills Administration’s initiative on rural health transformation, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) will work with rural hospitals to expand laboratory capacity to help them respond to COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.

Establishing Drive-Through Testing Sites: As the State lab ramps up testing capacity, the State of Maine also aims to increase the number of testing sites outside of health care office settings. Currently, Maine has 38 testing sites outside of office settings. The State is exploring options to partner with businesses and others to establish new so-called drive-through “swab and send” sites in Maine. This would allow primary care providers to recommend patients get testing in sites that are both accessible and safe.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Maine CDC are in the initial planning stages and will unveil more detailed plans in the coming weeks, the release noted.

This funding builds on the Mills Administration’s partnership with IDEXX to expand testing in Maine and allowing for the elimination of the testing prioritization system so that health care providers can recommend testing for anyone they suspect of having COVID-19, per the release.

As announced earlier this week, clinicians may now order tests for symptomatic people and people without symptoms who may be at risk for transmitting COVID-19 to others, the release stated.