Passengers from Peaks Island disembark the Machigonne II on Tuesday morning. Casco Bay Lines requires passengers to wear face coverings and maintain physical distance while aboard ferries and in the terminal. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

One additional person died of COVID-19 in Maine on Tuesday, marking the 100th death in the state since the pandemic began. The state also recorded 18 new cases, as daily case numbers continued to trend lower despite increased testing capacity.

Overall, the state has reported 2,606 confirmed and probable cases since mid-March. Of that total, 1,992 people have recovered, 101 more than Monday – leaving 514 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Also on Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak at Abbott Laboratories in Scarborough, with five cases since May 31 and 23 overall since the pandemic began in March. Abbott manufactures tests, including rapid COVID-19 tests that can produce results within minutes.

The Maine CDC said Abbott has been testing its employees since mid-April, and a company spokesman said there was no evidence that the workers contracted the virus at the facility or from each other.

Maine’s 100th death was a woman in her 90s from Cumberland County. While 100 deaths is a somber reminder of how deadly the virus can be, Maine’s death rate is the lowest in New England and among the lowest in the country.

Th state’s death rate of 74 deaths per 1 million population is the 10th-lowest among the states and the District of Columbia, and far lower than the nationwide rate of 344 deaths per 1 million population, according to the Worldometer website, which has been tracking COVID-19 statistics around the world.

Tuesday’s COVID-19 update comes a day after Gov. Janet Mills announced that starting July 1, out-of-state visitors to Maine will not need to quarantine for 14 days as long as they test negative for the virus within 72 hours before they arrive in Maine. Visitors from Vermont and New Hampshire are exempt from the requirements.

Department of Economic and Community Development spokeswoman Kate Foye provided clarity Tuesday on some questions that arose out of the quarantine alternative.

Seasonal Maine residents who own homes here also would have the option of presenting a negative test in lieu of the 14-day quarantine and that is effectively immediately, she said. Officials still encourage those individuals to get tested before they come to Maine, although with the new standing order issued Monday, they could potentially be tested upon arrival, but would need to quarantine until results come back. Since there is no lodging facility to keep track of these individuals, compliance will be harder to enforce.

As for people from out-of-state who come to Maine for the day and don’t stay in lodging, they will not be asked to present evidence of a negative test and would not be expected to quarantine, Foye said. However, public beaches and parks and other locations where they might visit will be stepping up symptom checks. The state announced that it will spend up to $13 million in federal dollars to enlist municipalities to assist in these efforts.

Heather Johnson, DECD commissioner, said during Tuesday’s media briefing that Maine residents who leave the state and return are expected to self-quarantine or get a negative test. Maine residents who travel to New Hampshire and Vermont and return would be exempt from the quarantine and negative test requirements.

Like day-trippers and seasonal residents, there is no enforcement mechanism for Mainers who vacation out-of-state and return.

The 14-day quarantine for those visiting Maine has been sharply criticized by tourism advocates.

“There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large over our tourism industry,” Mills said during a news conference Monday. “We’re trying to save the lives and livelihood of Maine people.”

But tourism industry officials said the new testing requirement replacing the quarantine doesn’t go far enough to save the summer tourism season.

The Maine CDC reported 18 new cases on Monday, the lowest number of daily new cases since May 12, and the same number – 18 – of new cases on Tuesday.

Current hospitalizations declined to 29 from 37 on Monday. There were 10 people in critical care and seven people on ventilators, continuing a general reduction in those numbers.

Hospitalization rates and death trends are key metrics for tracking the progress of the virus and efforts to contain transmission. Intensive care beds and ventilators are critical tools for treating hospitalized patients, and epidemiologists closely monitor the demand for these resources as they study the spread of the disease.

Testing expansion

Beginning next month, Maine will more than quadruple COVID-19 testing capacity at the state lab, further expanding the state’s ability to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Including test results from the state lab and tests provided to the state from private labs, Maine currently conducts about 10,000 tests per week. The state, in partnership with Idexx labs in Westbrook, will increase its capacity by an additional 25,000 tests per week starting in July, the Mills administration announced on Monday.

With the previously expanded testing that began in mid-May, the percent of positive cases continues to decline, from between 5 and 6 percent then to 4.73 percent overall on Tuesday.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, has said the goal is to get the cumulative percent positive rate as low as possible, ideally to less than 3 percent of all cases, which would indicate the testing, tracing and isolating strategy is working to contain the virus.

Testing, tracing close contacts of those who test positive, and isolating those who are contagious are key strategies to containing the spread of the virus. Countries that have successfully done so – such as South Korea – have kept infection rates low.

“The trend is in our favor, the wind is at our backs, but we need to keep rowing to get where we are going,” Shah said on Tuesday.

Maine’s “existing testing activity already far exceeds the U.S. CDC recommended minimum of testing 2 percent of the population per month. In May, the state’s public and private labs conducted nearly 37,000 tests, surpassing the minimum by 40 percent,” the state said a news release.

 

Starting in July, Maine also will allow residents in high-risk categories, such as seniors or those with underlying health conditions, to get tested without a doctor’s note.

Testing capacity also has increased at urgent care centers, and CVS this month started drive-thru testing at four Maine pharmacies.

Outbreaks

In announcing the outbreak at Abbott Laboratories, Shah praised the company for conducting weekly tests of its employees and having an effective strategy to contain the virus.

“Abbott  has been testing employees every single week starting in mid-April,” Shah said. “We commend Abbott for taking these early proactive steps.”

Scott Stoffel, Abbott spokesman, said in an email response to questions that there is “no evidence that these employees contracted the virus at our facilities or from each other.”

He said the company has run thousands of tests on 679 employees in the past eight weeks, and the rate of positive tests was below that for the general community. Many who tested positive were asymptomatic.

“We were able to identify these cases because we were looking for them, and these employees were able to immediately self-quarantine, not enter our facility and limit exposure to others,” Stoffel said.

In addition to testing, Abbott has worked to prevent spread of the disease by strictly following guidelines for disinfection and using personal protective equipment and physical distancing, he said, adding that the cases of COVID-19 have not affected production at the Scarborough facility.

Other outbreaks reported Tuesday include three cases at Montello Manor rehab center in Lewiston, five cases at Serenity Residential Care in Gorham and four cases at Support Solutions in Lewiston.

Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: