A woman walks through Dock Square in Kennebunkport on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths Wednesday. The state is now testing more people and finding fewer cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The state has gone five consecutive days with fewer than 25 new cases. The seven-day daily average is 23.7 new cases, compared to 39.6 a week ago.

Meanwhile, the positivity rate – a key metric to help track transmission of the virus – continues to fall. Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said Wednesday that the daily positive rate was 0.79 percent, and the seven-day average was 1.28 percent.

The lower the rate, the more likely it is that Maine health workers are finding most cases. This means containment efforts, like quarantining those with COVID-19 and their close contacts, are more likely to halt transmission of the virus.

“This is one of the numbers we pay the most and closest attention to,” Shah said on Wednesday. “There are good signs on the horizon, even though we must not use this as an opportunity to celebrate.”

The cumulative percent positivity rate stood at 3.58 percent Wednesday, well below the 5 percent to 6 percent rates in April and May. In other parts of the country where cases are surging, positivity rates have soared to over 20 percent, particularly in Florida, Arizona and South Carolina.

But Shah said Maine “still has more to do to expand the overall volume of testing across the state.”

While the testing expansion continues via a partnership with Westbrook-based Idexx labs, some of the laboratory equipment needed for a mobile lab stationed in Augusta has been delayed, Shah said. He said he didn’t know when the equipment will arrive, allowing the Maine CDC lab to fully expand to 32,000 tests per week, but expansion is continuing. Combined with private labs, Maine is currently conducting about 15,000 tests weekly, about five times higher than in April and May.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has had 3,460 total cases of COVID-19. Forty more Maine people had recovered as of Wednesday, and there are now 494 active cases of the disease, a decline of 20 from Tuesday.

Although case numbers fluctuate from day to day, Maine has yet to experience the large spikes and record highs seen in other states, particularly in the South and West. Maine’s infection rate was the seventh-lowest in the nation as of Wednesday, according to the Worldometer COVID-19 tracking website.

Shah also discussed the challenges for school reopening plans, which are still being developed.

“Our baseline presumption as we think about schools is that schoolchildren should be going to physical in-class instruction in the fall,” Shah said. But he said that schools need to be ready for in-person school, fully remote learning or a blend, depending on the prevalence of the virus this fall.

Fall high school sports could also be affected. Shah said a plan similar to Vermont – which has delayed the start of fall sports – is “under discussion” in Maine, but no final decisions have been made. Vermont pushed back the start of practices until the first day of school, which means regular season games will start a few weeks later than normal.

Current hospitalizations stood at 22 on Wednesday, the same as Tuesday. Nine patients were in critical care and four were on ventilators. The number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 peaked in late May, but the daily hospital count has mostly been on a downward trajectory since then.

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