A person walks along Congress Street in downtown Portland on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

State health officials reported eight additional coronavirus cases Monday, the first single-digit increase in nearly three weeks, after a July 4 weekend that saw four more deaths among individuals with COVID-19.

The low number of new cases in Maine – the smallest since late-April – comes as other states are setting new records for positive cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. But the state’s top epidemiologist cautioned that even Maine’s falling positivity rate is no cause for celebration and that Monday’s low numbers likely “reflect a bit of a holiday weekend effect.”

“The numbers of new positive cases could change for the worse, unfortunately, as has happened at a number of Southern and Western states across the country,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Even though these numbers are encouraging, they are not an occasion to let our guard down. We are still in this.”

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills was still finalizing language on an executive order that would require businesses to enforce the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in public settings when social distancing is not an option.

To date, 3,423 Maine residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 following a positive molecular test or are considered probable cases because they are exhibiting symptoms and either had close contact with an infected person or had a positive antibody test.

The number of Mainers with COVID-19 who have died since mid-March held steady at 109 Monday. Over the weekend, Maine CDC reported four additional deaths, all among Cumberland County residents: a man in his 80s, and three women in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

While the daily figures fluctuate significantly, the eight additional cases is the first time since June 16 that the number of new cases was in the single digits. Maine’s seven-day average stood at 29 new cases daily, compared to an average of 35 cases daily for the week ending June 29.

After accounting for the 109 deaths and the 2,787 people who have recovered from the disease, there were 527 active cases of COVID-19 in the state, a decrease of seven since Sunday. Maine averaged 526 active cases per day for the week ending on Monday compared to 467 per day for the week ending June 29.

Tourist hotspots were noticeably busier over the holiday weekend, although nowhere near as busy as during a typical July 4th. Most businesses, including hotels and restaurants, have been permitted to open as long as they comply with lengthy lists of health and safety measures aimed at reducing the risk of virus transmission.

Last week, the Mills administration exempted residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from the testing or 14-day quarantine required of residents of other states. Asked again Monday why Massachusetts was left off the list, Shah said state health officials looked for places where the new cases per million residents and positivity rates “are the same as where Maine is, or better.”

Maine’s cumulative positivity rate among the nearly 109,000 molecular tests run to date stood at 3.6 percent as of Monday, while the seven-day weighted average was 1.53 percent.

Last month, Mills announced a secondary partnership with the Westbrook veterinary diagnostics firm Idexx Laboratories that would allow the Maine CDC lab to process an additional 25,000 tests per week starting in July. On Monday, Shah said the target opening date for that expanded testing facility is July 17.

Currently, Maine CDC’s lab has the capacity to process about 1,000 of the 2,000-plus tests reported to the state every day, with the remainder run by private or commercial labs.

So far this month, 14 states have reported single-day highs in new COVID-19 cases and the country has experienced its three largest jumps in daily cases numbers, according to tracking by The New York Times. The surges have prompted governors or city officials in Texas, Florida and other states to reimpose restrictions or order businesses to close their doors once again.

Maine residents have been required to wear cloth face coverings in indoor public spaces, such as retail shops, for more than a month. But compliance is spotty, and many businesses seem reluctant to enforce the requirement.

Last Wednesday, Mills announced that she would soon be issuing an executive order requirement large retailers, restaurants and other businesses to enforce the mandate unless an individual has a health issue that exempts them from wearing a face covering. While governors in other states have enacted similar rules, the mandates have sparked pushback from individuals who view the requirement as civil rights infringement or who argue forcing someone to disclose health conditions violates privacy laws.

The governor’s office said Monday that the executive order is expected “this week.” Asked about reasons for the delay, Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete replied: “We are consulting with the Attorney General’s Office and are in the process of finalizing the Executive Order, as well as additional guidance to distribute to businesses to aid in its implementation.”

During his daily briefing, Shah seemed to respond to some of the pushback against the mask-wearing mandate by comparing face coverings to speed limits.

In both cases, Shah said, the rules are intended to make everyone safer by reducing “collective risk.”

“The reason for a speed limit isn’t to penalize those who break it,” Shah said. “The reason we have a speed limit is much more practical: It is to avoid a massive pileup on the highway. Likewise, the reason for face coverings isn’t to shame or punish those who don’t wear them. It is to avoid the equivalent of a COVID crash on our highways.”

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.