State health officials reported four additional deaths as well as 172 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as the virus continues an alarming, fast-paced spread throughout Maine.

While not as high as Monday’s record-setting 204 cases, the 172 confirmed or probable cases reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention pushed the state’s seven-day average to 165 cases daily compared to 102 a week ago. The number of active cases of COVID-19 stood at 1,804, triple the number from one month ago.

Meanwhile, this was the first time since early June that the Maine CDC reported four deaths on the same day.

The deaths reported Tuesday were: a woman in her 90s from York County, a man in his 90s from York County, a woman in her 80s from Somerset County, and a man in his 70s from Kennebec County. To date, state health officials have reported 157 deaths among individuals with COVID-19 in Maine as well as 8,069 confirmed or probable cases of the disease since the virus was first detected in Maine in mid-March.

The rising case numbers are fueling a higher demand for testing. At a drive-thru testing site at the Westbrook Public Safety building, for example, over 100 people were tested during the first four hours the facility was open Tuesday morning, and all available appointment times were booked until Saturday evening.

Maine now has the nation’s highest reproduction rate, which measures how many additional people each positive person is likely to infect. As of Tuesday, that reproduction rate, or R number, stood at 1.43, according to the rt.live website that tracks the rate nationwide based on publicly available data. Maine’s R number had stayed below 1 – indicating some containment of the virus – from May through September.

State health officials pointed out that hospitalizations are increasing across the state as well.

On Tuesday, there were 54 people hospitalized with COVID-19 – up from 49 on Monday – with 16 of those individuals being treated in critical units and six connected to ventilators. While Maine is still well below capacity for ICU beds, hospitalizations and deaths typically lag behind surges in new cases because of how the disease progresses in individuals.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, also pointed out that Maine’s 24-hour positivity rate among individuals tested for the virus had climbed to 2.23 percent. After hovering below 1 percent for much of August, September and October, the rising positivity rate is another indication that the virus is spreading more readily in the community.

“Here’s where we are: things are getting worse across the country, across the region, and across our state,” Shah said on Twitter. “We ignore the risks of #COVID19 at our peril as well as the peril of our friends and family. You can help. Wear a face covering. #dotherightthing.”

Shah and Gov. Janet Mills have warned that the state could retighten restrictions on residents and businesses – as governors have in other states, including Massachusetts – if the virus continues to spread unchecked. Mills has reimposed some restrictions – including recently mandating mask wearing in all public settings regardless of a person’s ability to physically distance – but has not signaled that another lockdown is coming.

New cases were reported Tuesday in all but two Maine counties – Piscataquis and Aroostook, the state’s most rural counties. Cumberland County led the way with 35 cases, followed by Kennebec, York and Androscoggin with 22 cases each.

As the virus surges, some K-12 schools and colleges across Maine are having to cancel in-person instruction or make other changes.

The University of Maine announced Tuesday that because of increased community transmission of the virus it is encouraging commuter students to limit trips to campus “to only essential academic or health-related activities.” Additionally, supervisors and administrators are being asked to emphasize remote working options for employees as much as possible during the final two weeks of in-person instruction before the Thanksgiving break.

On-campus residents are being urged to stay on campus during those final two weeks, public access to libraries and gyms may be further reduced, and new appointments for admissions tours are being pushed beyond Thanksgiving. Finally, all out-of-state students and on-campus residents will be required to undergo “safe departure testing” before Thanksgiving.

“Our campuses are among the safest places in the country in terms of COVID exposure and case counts,” UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said in a statement. “Pandemic fatigue is real and community transmission is on the rise. With our students leading the way we will finish the final two weeks of in-person instruction planned for this fall and send everyone home to their families safely at the Thanksgiving break.”

St. Joseph’s College in Standish reported another outbreak of three students who reportedly had close contact in a residence hall. A total of 13 students were in quarantine in a building that has been converted for that use and the college’s Pandemic Response Team was reviewing options, although the school was still offering a mix of in-person and virtual instruction.

The Maine Department of Corrections said in a news release late Tuesday afternoon that two staff at Long Creek Youth Development Center have tested positive and are now in isolation. The South Portland facility is the state’s only youth prison and incarcerates 33 juveniles.

The department said it is testing 10 juveniles from one unit, as well as 120 staff. It was not clear why the other incarcerated youths are not included in that testing, which will continue through the week.

The outbreak at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham still includes a total of 131 people. Thirteen are staff, and 118 are inmates. The department said Tuesday that six staff and eight inmates have recovered, and the most recent round of testing shows there are no new cases outside the two units where the outbreak began.

More than 400 adults were incarcerated at the Windham prison as of last week. The facility has 260 employees.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections did not respond to an email or a voicemail with questions, including the number of people experiencing symptoms or receiving medical care as part of this outbreak.

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report.

 

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