A man walks along the Eastern Promenade in Portland earlier this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine reported another death and 23 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but the number of people who have recovered continues to grow – reducing the number of active cases in the state.

The death – a woman in her 90s from Cumberland County – was the first fatality since June 17. Maine now has reported 103 deaths since the pandemic began in March. Active cases declined from 449 Tuesday to 424 Wednesday. Reported recoveries totaled 47.

With low case counts, reduced hospitalizations and other positive trends, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development released guidelines for “Stage 3” of Gov. Mills plan for reopening businesses and activities, which begins on July 1.

Among businesses that can reopen will be movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, performing arts centers and spas. They will have to have extra safety guidelines in place, such as limiting gatherings to 50 people or fewer, spacing customers at least 6 feet apart and requiring masks in indoor locations.

To date, there have been 3,017 cases of COVID-19 in Maine.

For the seven-day period ending Wednesday, Maine averaged 23 new COVID-19 cases per day, compared with a daily average in the low 50s at the pandemic’s peak in late May.

Shah noted the positive trends in reported cases and hospitalizations.

“The reason Maine has done well is because, not despite, but because Maine people have adhered to and listened to the science,” Shah said. He said despite some reports of people flouting the rules, such as at indoor retail stores, in other cases he has seen or heard of good compliance.

The science is now firmly on the side of wearing face coverings – especially in indoor public places – because many people with COVID-19 never develop symptoms or are contagious prior to developing symptoms.

“Those face coverings are more important now than they have ever been,” Shah said.

Shah also pointed out that cases have been escalating in other states, particularly in the South and West, and said Maine must remain vigilant to prevent a spike here.

More than 36,000 new infections were reported nationally Wednesday – eclipsing the daily record of 34,203 set on April 25.

Current hospitalizations in Maine ticked up from 24 to 26 Wednesday, with 12 people in critical care beds and six on ventilators. But the overall trend has been down, with the hospital population of coronavirus patients peaking at 60 in late May. Overall, 339 Mainers have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

The cumulative positive-test rate has declined to 4.10 percent, down from between 5 percent and 6 percent in April and May. With expanded testing, the number of positive cases has dropped, and the seven-day weekly average positivity rate on Wednesday was 1.83 percent. The lower the rate, the more likely it is that Maine health workers are finding most cases of the disease. This means containment efforts, like quarantining those with COVID-19 and their close contacts, are more likely to halt transmission of the virus.

Testing will increase again in July with the expansion of a partnership with Westbrook’s Idexx Laboratories, giving Maine the ability to conduct about 35,000 tests weekly. That is more than seven times previous capacity.

Despite the decline in cases, the Mills administration on Monday indefinitely postponed the reopening of indoor service at bars and brewery tasting rooms, citing outbreaks linked to such establishments in other states.

Shah said bars are inherently riskier than other forms of indoor entertainment that will open July 1, including bowling alleys, arcades and movie theaters. Shah said at bowling alleys and movie theaters, as at restaurants, customers in groups are more likely to keep to themselves and stay more than 6 feet apart, while they are more likely to interact at a bar.

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