Maine health officials reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday but no additional deaths, continuing a positive trend at a time when many other states are seeing dramatic increases.

The state’s low numbers have set up a political fight between Republicans in the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and her allies, who are at odds over whether to continue easing travel restrictions on visitors from some nearby states.

House and Senate Republicans on Monday called on Mills to add Massachusetts and Rhode Island to the list of states exempt from either a 14-day quarantine or proof of negative test 72 hours before visiting. Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been exempt from that requirement for weeks and Republican Senate leader Jeffrey Timberlake of Turner said at a news conference that Maine is losing a lot of tourism money by not letting visitors from other New England states travel freely.

Mills had a pointed response to the Republicans’ measure.

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why Republicans care more about Massachusetts money than the life of a Maine person,” she said in a statement. “What the Republicans unveiled today is not a set of recommendations to salvage our tourism industry. It is a Donald Trump-style assault on the very public health measures that have successfully protected Maine people. It amounts to a Republican invitation for a resurgence of the virus, which not only would sicken more people but would damage our economy for years to come.”

There have now been 3,832 confirmed or probable cases and 119 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic reached the state in March, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of cases have come in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties. Ten of Maine’s 16 counties have tracked fewer than 50 cases.

The number of active cases in Maine was 421 on Monday, which is 10 more than Sunday. The daily average of new cases over the last 10 days is 23.4, up from an average of 19.6 cases during the previous 10-day period but still well below the daily average of more than 50 during Maine’s peak in late-May.

A woman walks up Congress Street last week. Maine continues to avoid the steep increases in coronavirus cases that many states have experienced over the last few weeks, prompting some to reinstitute restrictions that had been lifted. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

So far, 381 individuals have been hospitalized at some point but only 13 were in the hospital as of Monday (one fewer than Sunday) and only eight in intensive care (two fewer than Sunday). Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Maine continued to fall last week, with some hospitals reporting the lowest numbers of patients since the early days of the pandemic.

Maine continues to avoid the steep increases that many states have experienced over the last few weeks, prompting some to reinstitute restrictions that had been lifted. For four straight days, the U.S. has seen more than 1,000 deaths and hospitals in states like Florida and Texas are overrun. The U.S. leads every other country in both confirmed cases and deaths by a wide margin but some states have been hit harder than others.

Another positive sign for Maine is that a significant increase in testing over the last month or so has not led to a spike in new cases. So far, the state has processed more than 165,000 tests but the rate of positivity is below 3 percent. In other states, especially those in the south and west, the rate is 10 percent or higher.

The state’s numbers are being closely watched as Maine’s public schools prepare to release their plans for the fall, which are expected to range from all remote learning to a hybrid of remote learning and in-school classes to entirely in-school learning with safety measures.

Maine’s low numbers have been cited by Republicans as reason to further reopen the economy. Mills and Democrats, however, cautioned that doing so could lead to a spike and have favored a stay-the-course approach.

The two sides have been engaging in partisan bickering in recent weeks, including a disagreement over whether to bring the Legislature back.

 

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