On a day when new COVID-19 cases again topped 200, Gov. Janet Mills urged Maine residents to “hang in there,” and said despite the raging pandemic there is still much to be thankful for.

“Maine people have always taken care of each other no matter what and this week is no different,” Mills said at a media briefing Wednesday afternoon. “The fact is: Returning to normal some time next year requires us to survive the holidays this year.”

State health officials reported 228 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Wednesday, just one day after Maine set records for both new cases and deaths reported in a single day. It marked the ninth time in the last 17 days with at least 200 new cases. The seven-day average increased to 217 cases, compared to just 40 cases one month ago.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 11,027 confirmed or probable cases and 190 people have died with the virus, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 43 deaths in November, including 12 reported on Tuesday alone. It’s the second most of any month after April, with 51 deaths. In October, there were just six COVID-19 deaths.

Despite the increase, Maine’s rate of deaths per one million people is second lowest in the country behind Vermont.

There were 105 individuals in Maine hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 46 in critical care and 11 on ventilators. Overall, 678 people have been hospitalized at some point, including 191 in the last 30 days alone.

Hospitalizations and deaths often follow case spikes by two weeks or so, which means Maine is likely to see more of both.

Much of the recent growth in statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations has been concentrated at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where acutely affected patients at smaller hospitals across northern and eastern Maine are often transferred. Over the past two weeks the number of confirmed inpatients with COVID-19 has more than doubled, from 12 on Nov. 11 to 27 as of Wednesday morning, a level nearly four times EMMC’s spring surge peak of seven. By comparison, Mercy Hospital in Portland – which also belongs to the Northern Light Health hospital network – had just four COVID-19 inpatients Wednesday.

Reached by telephone Wednesday morning, Dr. Jeff Jarvis, Northern Light’s COVID-19 incident commander, said that in the early spring EMMC had prepared contingency plans to handle 100 patients and that coordination with other hospitals and hospital networks was excellent. He said the hospital network was seeking to weather the new surge without having to scale back on acute and chronic patient care and urged Mainers to observe public health guidelines to slow the spread of the disease by wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining social distance and avoiding holiday gatherings.

The number of active cases, which is the total number of cases minus the number of deaths and recoveries, is now 2,245, more than three times as many as this time last month but 133 fewer than Tuesday.

New cases were reported Wednesday in all 16 counties, led by York County with 48 cases and Cumberland and Penobscot counties with 37 each. As recently as two months ago, Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties accounted for 80 percent of all of Maine’s cases. Now, those counties account for 66 percent, a sign that the virus has spread into more rural parts of the state.

Westbrook firefighter Conor Battaglia discards a wrapper after collecting a sample at free drive-up COVID-19 testing at the Westbrook Public Safety building on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Despite the sobering trends, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said, “We don’t need to resign ourselves … that it’s too late to get a hold on things.”

Somerset County has been particularly hard hit recently. In August, the entire county had fewer than 50 cases. On Wednesday, the number was 425. Somerset County also has seen 19 deaths, including the death reported Wednesday and five of the 12 announced Tuesday. It trails only Cumberland and York counties in deaths.

Mills reminded Mainers that every death, indeed every case, is a person.

“These are not just numbers on a page. They’re not meaningless statistics,” she said. “Every one is an individual with a story.”

Among the new outbreaks reported Wednesday were several more involving schools, including Bangor High School, Foxcroft Academy and South Portland High School. Shah said despite the increasing number of cases in schools there is still no evidence that transmission is happening in schools, only that community transmission is extending into schools.

“When we don’t take precautions, there may be a school closing as a result of the behavior,” Mills said. “Everything we do and don’t do is connected.”

Over the last 30 days, there have been 313 confirmed or probable cases associated with schools and there are 24 active outbreaks, although only eight with more than five cases.

Mills again called for additional federal stimulus money to help businesses and individuals. Earlier Wednesday, her administration announced that it was dedicating an additional $536,000 in existing relief funds to support Meals on Wheels, the demand for which has doubled since the pandemic began. But she said Maine’s share of federal funding that it received in the spring won’t last long.

“I’ve spoken to every member of our delegation about the needs of the state of Maine,” she said. “We absolutely have to have another stimulus package as soon as possible.”

Cases have been exploding in almost every state in recent weeks and there are concerns things could worsen as the holiday season nears and millions are expected to travel and gather with people outside their home. Many of those travelers are college students whose campuses will be closed from Thanksgiving through the new year.

The University of Maine System announced Wednesday that it had conducted 6,300 tests to prepare students to return home. Of those, 40 cases were detected. The system anticipates that 50 students will be in quarantine or isolation over the Thanksgiving holiday.

There have now been more than 12.5 million confirmed cases and more than 263,000 deaths across the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The current seven-day average for deaths in the United States, 1,515, is the highest since May 13. There were also more than 88,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. on Tuesday, which is the highest total since the pandemic began.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, a holiday that will be “like none other we’ve endured or experienced,” Mills said, the governor pleaded once more for people not to let their guard down and to be safe.

“Hope is on the horizon,” she said.

Staff Writer Colin Woodard contributed to this story

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