A hockey referee who tested positive for COVID-19 may have exposed of hundreds of people at games he officiated last weekend in Maine and New Hampshire, a public health official said Thursday.
Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC, disclosed the information during his regular remote briefing with reporters.
Shah said the referee, whom he didn’t name, officiated a total of eight games Saturday and Sunday. The games were played at the Biddeford Ice Arena in Biddeford, Maine; North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Maine; and Merrill Faye Arena in Laconia, N.H.
He said the referee’s Biddeford games were played at 8:35 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. Saturday, and Sunday games were played at 7:40 a.m., 9:20 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. The official’s North Yarmouth Academy games were played Sunday between 6:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., and the single Laconia game started at 5:45 p.m. Saturday, according to Shah.
“If you or a family member was on the ice for one of these games, you should consider yourself a close contact of someone who has COVID-19," quarantine for 14 days and also get tested, he said.
Shah said further information about the referee’s case was limited, since his agency was just beginning to launch its investigation Thursday.
Asked how many people were potentially exposed to the virus, Shah said the tally could potentially be around 400, while stressing that that’s a “very, very” early estimate that could rise or fall as the probe continues.
All told, Shah said, Maine as of Thursday had a total of 5,639 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 35 from the prior day. Of the total number, he said, 5,048 cases were confirmed while 591 were classified as probable.
He said 459 people had been hospitalized in Maine since the start of the pandemic, including 28 people in the past 30 days. The state’s hospitalization rate for the virus, Shah said, stood at roughly 0.5 per every 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of about 9 per 100,000.
Maine’s death tally from the virus remains at 142, and 4,900 people have recovered, an increase of 20 recoveries from the prior day, according to Shah.
He also briefed reporters on additional outbreaks under investigation by the Maine CDC.
They include four cases among staffers at the BEK Inc. facility in Brunswick, four cases at the Kids Count Child Care center in Augusta, six cases at the Lonza biotech facility in Rockland, and five cases associated with the property management division of Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
Shah said the management division facility does not provide direct customer service to Maine residents.
Additional outbreaks under review include 13 cases at Community Regional Charter School in Cornville, with four among students and nine among employees; 19 cases at the Woodland Pulp facility in Baileyville; 24 cases linked to ND Paper in Rumford; and 22 cases at the Pinnacle Health & Rehab facility in Canton, with 15 among residents and seven among staff members.
“We’re now seeing upticks all across the state,” Shah said of the virus transmission. “Particularly in areas ... where rates were previously low, but specifically in situations that are not necessarily connected to outbreaks. That is, in a sense, evidence of greater community transmission. It’s something that’s of a concern to us."
Shah was joined during the briefing by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who was asked at one point what he was doing to plan for the possible disruption on election day of people claiming to be election observers, an apparent reference to President Trump’s recent comments that he’s urging his “supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully” for fraud.
“We’ve been issuing guidance to town election officials along this line and working with the attorney general’s office and the governor’s office to get this information out,” Dunlap said. “Although we supervise the printing of the ballots and we do the tabulation and certification of the vote, the actual election is run at the town level. And so the individual polling place warden is the official that has the exclusive authority to regulate activity, not only within the polling place but within 250 feet of the entrance to the polling place.”
Dunlap continued, “So we’ve been making sure that wardens have that information, that if someone tries to intimidate voters or get in the way of people participating in the process, they have the legal authority to ask them to leave. And if they refuse, they can have law enforcement remove them for the duration of the election if they do not comply with the warden’s directives.”
In a separate statement, Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said his office will work to ensure there’s no voter intimidation at the polls.
"All voters should feel safe and secure knowing that state and federal law protects their fundamental right to vote, free of intimidation and harassment,” Frey said. “The Office of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State have plans in place to enforce these laws to ensure that voting goes smoothly. “I urge all eligible Mainers to vote, either absentee or in-person on Election Day, and further urge that you make a plan for how you will ensure that your ballot is cast and your voice is heard. Voting is a fundamental right and our duty as citizens.”