A sign hangs from the rear-view mirror of a car parked in front of Maine Medical Center on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine reported three additional deaths and 36 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday as the state continued to reopen.

Another 58 Mainers have recovered from COVID-19, and active cases declined. Overall, Maine has had 2,482 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, and 98 deaths. With 1,797 recoveries, active cases declined from 612 on Thursday to 587 on Friday.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, said there are some encouraging signs over the past several days that the pandemic is easing in Maine, but it’s too early to call it a trend. Maine’s seven-day average of daily cases declined from 52.6 on May 26 to 36.6 on Friday.

“There’s some hopeful signs, but it’s a little early to call it a big trend,” said Mills, who is Gov. Janet Mills’ sister. “We are going to continue to have some ups and downs.”

Mills said one of the encouraging signs is a drop in cases as testing has greatly expanded. That has led to a lower positive-testing rate for COVID-19, an indication that Maine is identifying most cases through testing, and then tracing close contacts and isolating them. If done effectively, that strategy does much to reduce disease transmission.

Maine’s overall positive-test rate has declined to 4.89 percent after hovering between 5 percent and 6 percent for much of the pandemic. Maine’s testing rate has more than tripled, and the state is now conducting about 10,000 or more tests per week.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, noted Thursday that the rate of positive test results continues to decline.

Shah said Maine still has “a ways to go” before hitting the goal of 2 percent positive rate for total, cumulative tests. A positive-test rate in the 2 percent to 3 percent range would be similar to South Korea, which has one of the most effective COVID-19 testing and tracing programs in the world.

“But these are signs that our efforts to expand testing, both in terms of capacity and the number of tests that are getting done on a day-to-day basis, are getting us where we need to be going,” Shah said Thursday.

For the first weekday since mid-March, neither Shah nor any other Maine health or government officials briefed the media about the pandemic Friday. The break in daily weekday briefing came as President Trump visited a nasal swab manufacturer in Guilford.

“We have no major announcements to make, and given the high likelihood that news will be made elsewhere in the state today, we chose not to further complicate the lives of news directors and editors,” said Jackie Farwell, Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman, in a statement.

Another positive sign in Maine is a decline in current hospitalizations, from a high of 60 on May 24 to 35 Friday.

On Thursday, the Mills administration announced that bars, tasting rooms, fitness centers and nail salons in 13 Maine counties will be allowed to reopen on June 12. The Mills administration bumped up the original timeline in response to positive trends in coronavirus cases.

The accelerated reopening plan will not apply to similar businesses in Cumberland, York or Androscoggin counties because of ongoing community transmission of the virus.

Under the revised timeline, bars and tasting rooms will be able to resume outdoor service only starting June 12 in the following counties: Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo and Washington.

Gyms and fitness centers, nail salons, and tattoo and piercing parlors may also open June 12 as long as they are following a checklist of health and safety guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of transmission.

“These updates come in light of low case-count trends in the 13 counties where the relative small number of cases has largely remained steady or decreased,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, on Thursday.

The Mills administration is under intense pressure to relax restrictions on the out-of-state visitors that are critical to Maine’s tourism industry, which generates more than $6 billion annually.

Johnson said the administration is working with hospitality businesses on ways to eliminate the current 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state tourists. Business owners and groups have said the requirement could kill the summer tourism season and with it, many Maine businesses.

Johnson did not provide specifics Thursday, but said state officials are reviewing proposals from the lodging sector and other businesses for inclusion in a final plan, which could be announced early next week.

Also Friday, the government building that houses Maine Emergency Management Agency – 45 Commerce Drive – remained closed for disinfecting and cleaning after seven employees fell ill last week. The employees, who have since recovered, tested negative for COVID-19, but are being tested for other viruses, Shah has said. MEMA is where Shah had routinely given his daily media briefings, but the briefings are now conducted through the Zoom online program.

Susan Faloon, director of special projects/public information officer for MEMA, said Friday that the tentative plan is to reopen the building Monday for employees.

“No cause for the illnesses has yet been confirmed. Additional testing is being conducted to confirm or rule out potential causes and Pontiac Fever, which is caused by Legionella bacteria, is one of the many tests being run. Water testing is taking place as well,” Faloon said in an email response to questions.

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