A sign along Ferry Road in Saco reminds visitors as they approach Camp Ellis to remember their face masks. Shawn Patrick OuelletteStaff Photographer

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 27 additional cases of COVID-19 on Friday, reflecting an upward trend in new coronavirus cases even as the state maintains one of the nation’s lowest infection rates.

The number of Maine residents who have died after contracting COVID-19 held steady at 126 for a third consecutive day, however.

The 27 new cases – which include a slight adjustment on Thursday’s figures – bring the total number of confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in Maine to 4,115 as of Friday morning. Confirmed cases involve individuals who have tested positive during DNA-based testing while probable cases involve individuals who had a positive antibody test or are exhibiting symptoms after contact with a known infected person.

Maine has averaged 16 new cases per day for the week ending Friday, which is the same rolling average for the seven-day period ending on Aug. 7. But daily case numbers have ticked up, with Maine CDC reporting 20 or more cases on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday compared to an average of 13 cases per day between Aug. 3 and Aug. 11.

After accounting for the 126 deaths and the 3,604 people who have recovered from the disease, there were 385 active cases of COVID-19 that Maine CDC was tracking as of Friday. That is an increase of 14 active cases since Thursday.

At the same time, the number of tests being run in Maine has increased while the rate of results that come back positive continues to fall. On Thursday, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said there were a record 3,175 DNA-based tests reported to his agency Wednesday and that the positivity rate for those tests was 0.63 percent, compared to a national average of 8 percent. Maine’s seven-day average positivity rate was 0.65 percent, Shah said.

By Friday, the number of tests from the previous 24-hour period that were processed by or reported to the Maine CDC had dipped to 2,764. But the positivity rate among those tests was 0.54 percent, Shah said in a post on Twitter.

In other testing-related news, a Guilford company that is one of the world’s only major manufacturers of the nasal swabs used in COVID-19 testing received an additional $51 million contract to ramp up production. The company, which gained national attention in July when President Trump toured the facility, was previously awarded a $75.5 million contract to allow it to produce 40 million nasal swabs monthly.

Maine continues to fare better than many other states among the metrics used to gauge progress in combating the coronavirus.

Just six people were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide as of Friday morning, with two people being treated in critical care beds and one connected to a ventilator. Epidemiologists closely track hospitalizations and critical care demand for signs of strain on the health care system, and Maine had 120 critical beds and 254 conventional ventilators available on Friday.

The state’s infection and death rates remain among the lowest in the nation. Maine averaged 0.9 new infections per day for every 100,000 residents for the previous week, which is the lowest rate in the country, according to tracking by the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The states just below Maine on the institute’s list were Vermont (1.0 cases daily for every 100,000 residents), New Hampshire (1.8), Connecticut (2.0), New York (3.3), New Jersey (4.2) and Massachusetts (4.4). Residents of all of those states, with the exception of Massachusetts, can visit Maine without first obtaining a COVID-19 test or quarantining for 14 days because of the low infection rates among their populations.

With infection rates remaining low statewide, the Maine Department of Education announced Friday that all 16 counties were still in the “green” under the green-yellow-red color classification system. A green designation means schools in those counties could resume in-classroom instruction this fall as long as they can abide by a laundry list of health and safety protocols.

Individual school districts will decide whether to resume in-person instruction, to continue offering all classwork remotely or to adopt a hybrid model that combines the two. Some schools in Maine are also exploring options for outdoor classrooms and educational curricula.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, meanwhile, released several additional guidelines for restaurants, fitness centers, museums and other businesses that are operating during the pandemic.

For instance, the new guidance clarified that “front-of-house staff” in restaurants can wear face shields instead of cloth face coverings but only if the shield “is designed to be worn inverted, attaching below the face (e.g. as a collar) and open at the top of the shield, with the shield extending above the eyes and laterally to the ears.” Open-bottom face shields are not allowed for front-of-house staff.

Gyms and fitness centers were also instructed to allow at least 14 feet of space between participants in vigorous group activities, such as aerobics and cycling, if they cannot wear a face covering. With face coverings, participants in lower-intensity activities, such as some types of yoga, can be spaced 6 feet apart.

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