Maine reported 184 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, setting yet another record as the disease continues to spread.

There were 183 cases reported Thursday, 151 on Wednesday and 127 on Tuesday – all successive records during the pandemic. Cases are climbing in Maine and nationwide. The seven-day daily average of new cases in Maine stood at 124.9 on Friday, compared to 75.8 a week ago and 31.1 a month ago.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported a major outbreak on Friday afternoon, with 44 residents and 20 staff at Russell Park Rehabilitation and Living Center, a nursing home in Lewiston, testing positive.

“Testing is ongoing, so additional cases could be identified during the weekend,” Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine CDC, said in a statement. “Maine CDC’s outbreak response team is working closely with Russell Park staff to arrange further testing, provide adequate personal protective equipment and to ensure that appropriate infection protocols are in place.”

The agency is currently investigating outbreaks at six other long-term care facilities, including 26 cases at Pinnacle Health Care and Rehab in Canton; 27 cases at Woodlands Memory Care in Rockland; 21 cases at Durgin Pines in Kittery; eight cases at Sandy River Nursing Center in Farmington; three cases at D’Youville Pavilion in Lewiston and three cases at Sanfield Rehab and Living Center in Hartland.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, raised alarms at the media briefing Friday about the increase in nursing home outbreaks and hospital admissions. He noted that two weeks ago, eight people were hospitalized and none were in intensive care units, but 37 people now are hospitalized, with 14 in intensive care.

In addition, he said that 18 percent of all cases since the pandemic began in March have occurred within the past two weeks.

Overall, 7,444 people in Maine have fallen ill with COVID-19, and 150 have died. No additional deaths were reported Friday.

Shah said there’s no place in Maine that’s “safe” from the virus.

“What this most recent spike in cases means is every single person should recognize it can happen to you,” he said.

Shah said another change that occurred this fall is captured in data from contact tracing, which shows that the average number of close contacts per infected person was 5.8 in October, compared to 3.5 when measuring the entire pandemic. A close contact of someone who is infected must be quarantined for two weeks to prevent the spread of the disease.

If each infected person now has more close contacts than the spring, that means people are more likely to have transmitted the virus to others, he said.

“It tells us people are out and about, interacting with friends and coworkers much more so than earlier in pandemic,” Shah said.

With cases escalating, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services released new requirements for community sports and aligned their schedule with the winter high school sports season.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said at the media briefing that all youth community sports that are ongoing – such as youth hockey and basketball – must be stopped, and practices can resume Dec. 7. Games can begin in January, when the winter high school sports season is expected to start.

South Portland soccer players and coaching staff wear their masks on the sidelines during their game against Portland at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Also on Friday, the Maine Department of Education designated Knox and Franklin counties as “yellow” under its color-coded advisory system for school reopenings. Those two counties join Somerset and Washington counties, which were yellow last week.

While most schools around Maine are already operating under hybrid models, the yellow designation means schools may take extra steps to limit the number of people in buildings, and suspend or cancel sports and extracurricular activities. Waldo County, which had been yellow, rejoined Maine’s 12 other counties in the green category.

In higher education, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law closed for in-person classes on Friday after a “detectable level” of the novel coronavirus was found in the wastewater at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. The viral load of the sample is “provisionally interpreted by the UMS Scientific Advisory Board as being higher than expected based on the known caseload,” the University of Maine System said in a news release.

Students and staff are expected to return on Monday, pending additional wastewater sampling and analysis of ongoing asymptomatic testing at the university, the release said.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle also went to online-only learning on Friday, after one case of COVID-19 was reported there. Students are expected back on Monday.

As cases have soared, Gov. Janet Mills has dialed up restrictions to try to keep the virus in check, including a strengthened mask mandate on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Mills reduced the maximum size of indoor gatherings from 100 to 50, indefinitely delayed the opening of bars and tasting rooms, and reinstated testing and quarantine requirements for travelers entering Maine from certain states.

The mask mandate requires people to wear masks in almost all cases outside of their homes and yards, even when physical distancing is possible. It also requires small businesses to post signs reminding customers that they must wear masks indoors.

“It’s a common-sense rule,” Lambrew said. “If you’re asking yourself whether you need to do it, you probably should.”

In light of the increased evidence of transmission in small gatherings indoors as the weather has gotten colder, Shah said that “wearing face coverings with a small group of friends – especially indoors – is the right thing to do.”

Masks are required in all “public settings,” which are defined broadly in the governor’s executive order. In almost all indoor public places a mask is required, and masks are required outdoors at “playgrounds, parking lots, sidewalks, athletic and sports venues, and other areas such as lines for takeout service.” Masks are also required on public transportation and “buildings and grounds that are typically accessible to the public.”

“This degree of community transmission means that face coverings and physical distancing are more important than ever,” Shah said in a tweet Thursday. “Why do I worry? Today’s community transmission can become tomorrow’s outbreaks in places like nursing homes. We all need to do our part to keep them safe.”

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