Maine reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths Friday as the state moves closer to a wider reopening on July 1.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, pointed to a number of positive trends in recent weeks. Meanwhile, other parts of the country, especially in the South and West, are seeing a surge in cases, including Florida, Arizona, California, Nevada and South Carolina.

But in Maine, COVID-19 cases and a number of other metrics are showing a positive trajectory.

Shah said that while “this is not a victory lap, far from it,” Maine’s case numbers are declining while testing is expanding, with fewer hospitalizations and a low death rate.

He said Maine’s efforts at physical distancing, wearing masks and other measures have kept rates low. At 76 deaths per 1 million population, Maine ranks 40th among the states and District of Columbia for deaths, while the rate for the United States is 366 per 1 million.

“This is not an accident,” Shah said. “Rather than coming apart at the seams, we’ve come together at the core. When there’s a challenge confronting people in Maine, people in Maine find a solution to it.”

He also said that while there is no proof yet, there are some indications that the average confirmed COVID-19 case in Maine in mid-June is milder than the average case in April and May.

“There are some hints on the horizon that that is the case,” Shah said, pointing to lower hospitalizations and a leveling off of the death rate. “Hospitalizations are proxy for the overall severity of the disease that we see.”

Hospitalizations have fallen by more than 50 percent since late May, when there were 60 people with the disease in Maine hospitals. On Friday, there were 26 hospitalized, down one from Thursday. Eleven of those hospitalized were in critical care and five were on a ventilator.

In all, 327 people have been hospitalized with the disease at some point through Friday.

Shah said the Maine CDC is partnering with The Jackson Laboratory, giving the Bar Harbor lab virus samples that will be studied to determine whether the virus is stronger or weaker than the strains perviously circulating in the Northeast, Western Europe and Asia.

Overall, there have been 2,913 COVID-19 cases in Maine since the pandemic began, and 102 deaths. Recoveries increased by 23, but with cases outpacing recoveries Friday, active cases inched up from 476 on Thursday to 488 on Friday.

Ethan Armstrong plays contrabass at the Western Promenade on Thursday evening.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer  Buy this Photo

Friday’s numbers come after 42 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday, the highest daily total in a week. However, the daily average is still trending downward.

The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 27.4 on Friday, compared to a high of 52.6 in late May.

The state’s positive-test rate, which is also decreasing, is another good sign, Shah said. The cumulative percentage of positive tests is 4.3 percent, down nearly two percentage points in a little more than a month, according to the Maine CDC.

In recent weeks, the positivity rate has been about 2 percent. The lower the positive rate, the easier it is for public health workers to find most cases, and quarantine those infected and their close contacts, reducing its spread. Some countries, such as South Korea, have successfully used that strategy to keep case counts and deaths low.

“Our goal is to drive that number as low as possible,” Shah said.

Shah compared Maine’s response to COVID-19 with the way the state responded last summer by helping asylum-seekers – many from Africa – who were staying in an ad-hoc shelter at the Portland Expo.

“These are individuals who traveled many thousands of miles looking for refuge and, at every stop, were told ‘no,’ ” Shah said. “But then they arrived in Maine, where we said, ‘yes.’ We should take pride in that compassion.”
He noted that many of the asylum-seekers are volunteering during the pandemic.

Maine is set to move to the third stage of re-opening on July 1, although Shah said earlier this week that Maine may delay reopening bars since they pose a higher risk.

 

Other potential re-openings July 1 include charter boats, overnight summer camps, spas and massage therapy.

 

The trends are positive but will be watched closely in the coming days. On Wednesday, restaurants opened for indoor dining everywhere and fitness centers, nail salons, tattoo parlors and brewery tasting rooms were permitted to open as well, as long as the facilities follow health and safety guidelines designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 infection.

Shah said Wednesday that bars present additional challenges because they can be jammed with people talking loudly in close proximity, and he pointed to outbreaks involving dozens of customers and employees at bars in Jacksonville, Florida, and Boise, Idaho, as an example of how easily the coronavirus can spread in such places.

He also highlighted a program where people who are infected by COVID-19 and can’t easily quarantine at home can stay in a hotel. Prime candidates are those who have large families or are living with high-risk people, such as older people. Hotels are available in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, Waterville and Augusta for those who need a two-week quarantine. The program – coordinated by MaineHousing – started on April 24, and has been used by 185 people.

 

 

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