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Maine’s older population among most vulnerable in U.S. to serious illnesses from coronavirus

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As of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that two Maine residents have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. 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 — Roughly half or more of all Maine adults — particularly older and rural people — are at risk of developing serious illnesses if they contract the new coronavirus, making the state’s older population one of the most vulnerable in the U.S. to the virus.

After a Friday request from the Bangor Daily News, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention released an internal memo used for planning that outlines the share of people at risk of developing serious illnesses if they contracted the virus. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a state-by-state analysis on the same subject on Friday.

The state figures differ depending on the set of recommendations being used and the Maine CDC says they are conservative because they do not include people in rehabilitation, assisted-living or nursing home facilities, but the share of Maine’s vulnerable adult population was second among U.S. states — only behind West Virginia — in the Kaiser analysis.

Under federal guidelines, the Maine CDC said 49.4 percent of Maine adults are at risk based on age and pre-existing medical conditions. That share of at-risk Mainers increases to 60 percent of Mainers under broader World Health Organization guidelines that include more chronic conditions including cancer or high blood pressure.

It is largely a result of the aging population of Maine, which has the highest median age of any state. According to U.S. CDC guidelines and 2017 health survey data in Maine, the estimate of vulnerable people includes 91.4 percent of Mainers on Medicare, the federal health care program for people 65 and older, compared with 49 percent of Medicaid recipients, 35.6 percent of people with private insurance and 28.7 percent of uninsured people.

People in rural areas would be affected more by the virus. Under those guidelines, Lincoln and Piscataquis counties — the two considered most rural by the U.S. Census Bureau — would have the most vulnerable populations with 57.1 percent of residents and 55.6 percent, respectively, at risk of serious illnesses. Only 44.3 percent of Cumberland County residents are vulnerable, the lowest share in any county.

Many of those at-risk Mainers are people with chronic conditions, including 34.8 percent of people with hypertension, 11.2 percent of people with asthma, 10.7 percent of people with diabetes and 9.2 percent of people with nonskin cancers.

Maine has recorded two presumptive positive tests for the virus since Thursday: a Navy reservist in her 50s from Androscoggin County and a man in his 50s who works for a health clinic run by the city of Portland. Gov. Janet Mills has recommended canceling gatherings of 250 or more people, while colleges and universities have shifted to online learning.

The U.S. has recorded more than 1,600 positive tests for the virus in 46 states and the District of Columbia with 41 deaths, according to the federal CDC. The coronavirus causes flu-like symptoms that causes mild illness for most healthy people but can progress to pneumonia or cause serious health effects for older people or those with compromised immune systems.

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