A sign reminds shoppers to wear masks at the Marden’s store in Scarborough. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The Mills administration said Wednesday that it will now make travelers from Massachusetts exempt from rules that had required them to produce a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in Maine.

“Protecting the health and safety of Maine people has always been our first and foremost goal,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a written statement. “We congratulate our friends to the south on their progress in mitigating the spread of the virus and ask them to continue to take all the appropriate precautions, as we know they will, to protect their health and safety and that of Maine people.”

State health agencies determined that Massachusetts “now resembles exempt states like Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey in its COVID-19 prevalence and positivity rate.”

According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, Massachusetts has 5.4 cases per 100,000 population, the ninth-lowest state in the nation. New Jersey has 5.2 cases per 100,000, New York 4.1 cases and Connecticut 4.6 cases.

Despite some recent outbreaks in York County, Maine has the second-lowest per capita rate in the nation, at 2.1 cases per 100,000, while the nation’s lowest rate is Vermont at 0.6 cases.

“This change includes Maine residents who may be traveling back to Maine from Massachusetts after visits for services such as health care,” Mills said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, said Maine still recommends that people traveling from exempted states “take advantage of readily available testing options as the best way to ensure the safety of Maine residents and visitors.”

Maine reported 38 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday but no additional deaths. Eighteen of the cases were in York County, where public health authorities continue to report new outbreaks.

After adjusting for previously reported probable cases that later proved negative, the net increase in cases Wednesday was 25,  according to the Maine CDC.

The seven-day daily average of new cases stood at 34.9 Wednesday, up from 30.1 a week ago and more than double the seven-day average of about 15 new daily cases in mid-August.

In Sanford, where many of the York County outbreaks have occurred, the City Council on Tuesday voted to suspend municipal recreation programs and close parks, fields and outdoor sports facilities. In a Facebook post, the Sanford recreation department said the new restrictions would be in place as long as Sanford High School remains in all-remote learning mode. The high school switched to all-online classes this week after outbreaks at the school and in the community.

In Cumberland County there were four new cases Wednesday. Twenty-six more people have recovered from COVID-19, bringing recoveries to 4,445 since the pandemic began. Active cases stood at 586, compared to 468 cases a week ago.

Overall, Maine has reported 5,171 cases of COVID-19, and 140 deaths.

York County continues to be driving case counts, with several confirmed outbreaks, including new outbreaks at Sanford High School and Sanford Regional Technical Center, the Sanford Wolves Club, Hussey Seating Company in North Berwick and the Ogunquit Beach Lobster House.

The state said patrons or employees at the Ogunquit restaurant between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18 could have been exposed to the virus and should monitor themselves for symptoms, consult their doctors and quarantine for 14 days if they had close contact with someone who tested positive.

Maine health officials announced Tuesday that the state is now allowing everyone who wants to be tested to do so without a doctor’s note or meeting other criteria first, as Maine continues to expand its testing capacity.

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