State health officials reported 44 additional COVID-19 cases and one new death on Friday, even as Gov. Janet Mills announced plans to relax restrictions on more businesses in rural Maine.

To date, there have been 1,374 cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus in the state, according to the latest update from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure includes 1,264 confirmed cases as well as 110 probable cases among individuals who are exhibiting symptoms and have either tested positive on an antibody test or had close contact with a known case.

The death reported Friday – identified only as a man in his 60s from Hancock County – raises Maine’s death toll from the coronavirus to 63.

After accounting for the deaths and the 836 people who have recovered from the disease, the Maine CDC was reporting 475 active cases of COVID-19 on Friday – a decrease of six since Thursday. But health officials caution the actual number of infections in Maine is much higher because not everyone with symptoms is tested.

Forty-four people were hospitalized as of Friday, up five from the previous day, while 23 people were being treated in intensive care units, which is an increase of seven. Ten people were hooked to ventilators to assist with breathing after suffering respiratory problems.

The state had 284 critical care beds, of which 137 were available Friday, and 319 ventilators, 200 of which were available, the CDC said.

The daily tally of active cases had hovered in the high-300s or low-400s for more than two weeks until two new outbreaks caused the number to hit a peak on Thursday of 481 cases before declining again Friday. Public health experts say that a two-week downward trend in cases and hospitalizations is critical to reopening the economy safely and reducing the risk of transmitting the virus.

As of Thursday, there were 51 confirmed cases at the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Portland. Additionally, the Maine CDC reported 17 cases at the Springbrook Center skilled nursing facility in Westbrook.

The Maine CDC also continues to monitor deadly outbreaks at several nursing homes or long-term care facilities, including at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough, the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation and Tall Pines in Belfast.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said Friday that long-term care facilities and other congregate care settings, such as homeless shelters, account for a large part of the recent increases in case numbers. The other group whose numbers continue to rise is people who live with or have close contact with an infected individual.

The Maine CDC has only detected community transmission – which is when someone contracts the disease from an unknown source in the community rather than from a known infected person or travel to hotspots – in Cumberland, York, Penobscot and Androscoggin counties.

“We still do see the occasional case as a result of community transmission,” Shah said during Friday’s briefing. “But given that folks have been staying inside, abiding the governor’s orders to stay inside, the number of incidental cases of transmission that we have seen from the community has really fallen off.”

Cumberland and York counties account for two-thirds of the confirmed or probable cases in Maine, to date.

On Thursday, Shah and Mills announced a major agreement with Westbrook-based Idexx Laboratories that will allow the Maine CDC lab to triple its testing capacity. Shah said Friday that the equipment – which looks for genetic materials of COVID-19 on swabs taken from patients’ nasal cavity or throat – should be installed and calibrated by the end of next week.

The deal with Idexx will allow Maine CDC to analyze an additional 5,000 tests weekly. That should allow physicians to request tests for patients exhibiting symptoms but who do not fall into one of the categories – such as nursing home residents or health care workers – that receive priority for testing now.

The additional capacity also could enable the Maine CDC to conduct preemptive universal testing at congregate care settings and work with physicians to conduct random testing (with permission) of patients receiving care for reasons other than COVID-19.

“With that additional capacity … Maine CDC will be able to better gauge the prevalence of the virus throughout the state,” Mills said on Friday. “This, in turn, opens the door to other possibilities as we examine how to safely restart Maine’s economy.”

As part of that process, Mills announced plans to allow additional retail stores as well as fitness centers in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties to begin reopening on Monday as long as they follow strict safety and health guidelines. Additionally, restaurants, campgrounds and sporting camps will be able to open with restrictions on May 18. Restaurants are currently restricted to takeout, curbside or home delivery service.

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