The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported two more deaths among people with COVID-19 on Tuesday as well as 16 new cases of the disease.

The total number of confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in Maine stood at 3,838 on Tuesday, an increase of 16 after accounting for other adjustments to the daily case count since Monday. To date, at least 121 Mainers have died after contracting the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Maine CDC was reporting 398 active cases Tuesday after accounting for the 121 deaths and the 3,319 individuals who have recovered, a decrease of 23 since Monday.

The additional deaths reported Tuesday are a woman in her 70s from Lincoln County and a man in his 70s from Androscoggin County, the agency said.

Maine’s low case numbers Monday prompted Republican lawmakers to call on Gov. Janet Mills to ease tourism restrictions and allow Massachusetts and Rhode Island to be added to a list of states from which visitors to Maine are exempt from either a 14-day quarantine or proof of a negative test within 72 hours before visiting.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during a briefing Tuesday, however, that while the state is continually reviewing its list of states exempt from those requirements there are no immediate plans to add new ones. New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are currently exempt from the mandate.

The policy is rooted in the premise that states whose risk levels are about the same as Maine’s are allowed to travel freely because they are not bringing an increased risk of COVID-19, Lambrew said. Risk level is based on several factors, including weekly positivity rates, new cases adjusted for population and other metrics.

A man rides a bicycle on Congress Street in Portland last week. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“States nationwide are starting to adopt the policy Maine adopted on June 8, which is having testing as an alternative to quarantine,” Lambrew said. “Many states are going into the same mode of making sure when people travel they are traveling safely. We know our policy has been working. We’ve been open for tourism since June 26 and thank goodness we have not yet seen a tourism-related outbreak.”

Maine had the third-lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the country as of Monday after Hawaii and Vermont, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracking system. Maine had the nation’s second-lowest new infection rate over the previous seven days, with just nine new cases for every 100,000 residents.

Two states where infection rates are surging, Florida and Louisiana, had 337 and 323 new cases per 100,000 residents during that period, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

While the number of new cases in Maine is low, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said the state has opened a handful of outbreak investigations in recent days and is continuing to monitor an outbreak at Marshwood Center in Lewiston. The long-term care facility has a total of 21 cases among 13 residents and eight staff members. Another round of universal testing was conducted Tuesday, with results expected by Thursday, Shah said.

 

Another outbreak is being monitored at Central Maine Medical Center, where there are 12 confirmed cases, 10 among staff and two among patients. Shah said the outbreak appears to have been introduced by a patient and as soon as the CDC became aware they began working with the hospital to offer testing to staff and make sure the facility had protective equipment and was set up for infection control.

Finally, the CDC has also opened outbreak investigations at Sappi Fine Paper’s Westbrook mill, where a third case was reported Monday night; and at Hancock Foods, a blueberry processor in Hancock County, that has reported five cases. The Hancock Foods cases are not included in Tuesday’s virus counts but will be included in Wednesday’s numbers, Shah said.

Maine’s seven-day testing positivity rate currently stands at 1.08 percent, which Shah said is down from 1.95 percent 30 days ago. The national positivity rate is around 9 percent.

Maine is also considering loosening restrictions on large gatherings held outside, Shah said, after recent data indicates outdoor events have a lower risk of transmission than previously thought. On Friday, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development announced new rules for outdoor spectator events that allow venues to host up to 200 people in separate sections of 50 each.

Shah said a number of factors such as space, ultraviolet light and better ventilation at outdoor events have all been the basis for theories that the risk of transmission is lower outdoors, and new research backs that up.

“There seems to be more data emerging with respect to the relative safety of outdoor activities,” Shah said. “The key is relative. There is no zero risk scenario. But it seems to be that relatively speaking, there is some added protection from being outdoors.”

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