Maine reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 14 in York County, where there have been several recent outbreaks. There were no additional deaths.

York County remains a hot spot for community spread and outbreaks, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“York County raises significant epidemiological concerns,” Shah said at an afternoon media briefing. “When we compare York County today to two weeks ago, we see significant differences trending in the wrong direction.”

In Cumberland County, Maine’s most populous county, only two new cases of COVID-19 were recorded Thursday. After adjusting for previous probable COVID-19 cases that turned out to be negative, Maine had a net increase of 26 cases Thursday.

The two most recent York County outbreaks occurred at the Sanford American Legion and the Lafayette Club in Sanford. Also recently, health officials have responded to outbreaks at York County Jail in Alfred, Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, Seal Rock Healthcare nursing home in Saco and the Sanford Fire Department.

Posters from the State Theatre letting customers know where they can find updates hang in the window of the permanently closed Port City Music Hall in downtown Portland on Aug. 31. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The jail outbreak is directly linked to an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Millinocket area that has been connected to 161 cases and three deaths across the state as of Thursday. A jail employee attended that wedding. It’s not clear if the other York County outbreaks are related to each other or to the Millinocket wedding, Shah said.

In Sanford, school reopenings were delayed to Sept. 14, and Mayor Tom Cote pleaded with Sanford residents to comply with state health requirements.

He noted that students are “mandated to wear a mask, social distance, wash their hands, alter their schedules, and do without many of their social activities. These are the expectations of our students, but as adults, we are not practicing what we preach.”

Sanford’s City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Thursday night requiring people to wear face coverings in all public settings where social distancing is not possible and in stores, restaurants, bars, tasting rooms and lodging operations regardless of their size. It carries a minimum fine of $100, and will be enforced by local police.

Statewide executive orders require masks in indoor public places and outdoors if physical distancing is difficult. Owners and operators of buildings are required to enforce the mandate.

At Calvary Baptist Church, where 10 cases have been detected, pastor Todd Bell has been openly defiant about following state rules, and recent videos posted online show church services where attendees stood close together and sang without wearing masks. Bell officiated the Millinocket wedding.

Shah said Thursday that the Maine CDC is still considering what enforcement action, if any, would be taken.

“We are evaluating where we go from here,” Shah said, explaining that the investigation into Calvary Baptist Church’s compliance is ongoing.

Also on Thursday, public health workers responded to an outbreak at Hartt Transportation Systems in Bangor, where four employees tested positive for COVID-19, Shah said. All 75 workers at the company are being tested, he said.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has tracked 4,760 cases of COVID-19, and 134 deaths. A total of 4,153 people have recovered, leaving 473 active cases.

In York County, the positivity rate – the percentage of all tests that are returned positive – is about four times the statewide average, Shah said.  The seven-day average daily positivity rates in York County is 2.1 percent, while the statewide average is 0.55 percent. The national average is about 5 percent.

The lower the positive rate, the better, because that means state health officials are finding most cases of the disease and keeping cases from spreading by quarantining those who are contagious.

Cases per capita in York County are also much higher, Shah said, with about eight new cases per every 10,000 population in York County, compared to the statewide average of 2.66 per 10,000.

Last week, the state downgraded York County’s readiness for school reopening because of the elevated risk of virus transmission, making it the only Maine county that is classified as yellow rather green under the color-coded system.

Public K-12 schools opened in many parts of the state this week and other districts are preparing to welcome back students, at least part time, beginning next week. The state will monitor schools closely for any outbreaks.

At the college level, the University of Maine System announced Thursday that it will begin several rounds of random sampling for COVID-19 infection among students and teachers. Of the more than 14,000 tests conducted so far, the system found 13 cases of asymptomatic infections, and those people were quarantined.

At St. Joseph’s College of Maine, surveillance testing found two people with COVID-19, who are now in quarantine.

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