AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that a coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil has been found in the state.

The agency said it found the variant via genome sequencing on positive COVID-19 molecular tests for Maine residents. This is the first time the variant has been found in Maine. It has been found elsewhere in the United States since being discovered in Minnesota in January.

Maine CDC said in a statement that the variant was “identified via genome sequencing of a positive test sample from a Franklin County resident with no recent travel history. ”

Maine CDC said genome sequencing has also identified a total of 15 cases of a variant first identified in the United Kingdom and four cases of a variant first identified in South Africa.

Health authorities all over the country are keeping an eye out for variants of the coronavirus. Some have the ability to make a virus more contagious, deadly or resistant to vaccines and treatment.

The Maine CDC and other health authorities have advised that residents take typical pandemic precautions, such as mask wearing and seeking a coronavirus vaccine when eligible, as they continue to monitor the variants.

In other pandemic news in Maine:



The unemployment rate in Maine has ticked down as the state navigates the coronavirus pandemic.

The Maine Department of Labor said Friday that the unemployment rate for February was 4.8%, down from 5.2% the previous month. The number of nonfarm payroll jobs also increased 2,800 to 605,800 in February, the labor department said.

“Over the month job gains were primarily in the professional and business services, retail trade, and manufacturing sectors,” read a statement released by the department. “The number of jobs in the professional and business services, construction, and manufacturing sectors, each of which lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, have mostly recovered.”

The department also said that it recorded about 1,400 initial claims for state unemployment insurance for the week that ended March 20. That was down 500 from the previous week.

The department also said it recorded 300 initial claims for federal pandemic unemployment assistance, which was the same number as the previous week. The agency said a total of 2,500 people were filing an initial claim or reopening an unemployment claim. That was down 100 from the previous week.

Overall, unemployment in the state remains more than pre-pandemic levels, but is also less than the nationwide rate. The labor department said the state's 4.8% unemployment level for February was up from 3.1% in February 2020. The nationwide rate for January 2021 was 6.2%.



The number of daily cases of the coronavirus has climbed in Maine, but the number of daily deaths continues to fall.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 173.86 on March 10 to 194 on March 24. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 3.17 on March 10 to 0.57 on March 24.

The Maine CDC said Friday that it has reported 49,443 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. The agency has also reported 731 deaths.



Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, released new rules for houses of worship on Friday that allow for nursery schools services.

The new guidelines also allow refreshments, meals and fellowship activities, Mills' office said in a statement. The changes are effective immediately, the office said.

The Mills administration said resident should continue to heed health and safety protocols.



More than 33,000 people have signed up for a coronavirus vaccine through the state preregistry system in its first few days.

The preregistrations happened from Tuesday to Thursday morning, the Portland Press Herald reported.

State health authorities have said the registration website isn't meant to replace the registration systems some of the larger health care organizations in the state are already using.