The number of positive COVID-19 tests reported each day to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has plummeted by 80 percent since the totals peaked in late January, according to the latest state data.

On Friday, the seven-day daily average of positive tests stood at 485, down from the peak of 2,486 on Jan. 22. The state received just 244 positive tests Thursday compared to 3,400 submitted to the state on Jan. 12.

Positive test results submitted to the CDC have to be screened and processed before being counted as a confirmed new case – some are retests of people who already have tested positive. And some of the decline in positive tests is likely related to the increased access to at-home tests, which are not submitted to the state.

But the metric is one of several real-time measures, including hospitalizations and wastewater data, that show continued improvement in pandemic conditions in Maine.

At the same time, however, the death toll of the pandemic continues to climb in Maine. The state reported 27 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the pandemic total to 1,910.

The high number of deaths reported Friday likely includes deaths from a periodic review of death certificates stretching back weeks or months.


Maine also added 3,754 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the pandemic total as health officials work to clear a backlog of positive tests submitted in recent weeks. Maine is using a new partially automated system to sort through the backlog, which once nearly reached 60,000 but is now more than 30,000 positive results. The system weeds out duplicate cases and takes other steps to come up with a confirmed case count. Before the process was partly automated, staff at the Maine CDC were  overwhelmed with cases during the omicron wave and couldn’t process the test results quickly enough to prevent the backlog.

While the new automated process, which started this week, is now catching up, daily case counts are no longer a reflection of current pandemic trends. Even without a backlog, the widespread use of at-home tests that are not included in the official count means confirmed cases can no longer be used to monitor pandemic conditions.

All other metrics indicate the pandemic is improving in Maine, with communities such as Portland, Bath and Freeport ending their indoor mask mandates this week. Two cities, South Portland and Brunswick, will consider their indoor mask mandates next week.

The Catholic Diocese of Portland is making masks optional at its eight schools starting March 7. RSU 18, the Oakland-area school district, will make masks optional beginning Feb. 28, the Kennebec Journal reported. Lewiston schools will strongly consider a mask-optional policy after February break, the Sun Journal said.

Some students and parents have recently complained about the persistence of mask mandates despite improvement in pandemic conditions, including in Freeport, Topsham and Nokomis.



Many public schools are waiting for a Maine CDC recommendation on when to make masks optional. The state now recommends masks be worn in schools, and most districts have imposed mandates.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a media briefing on Wednesday that the time to recommend making masks optional in schools may be coming soon, as long as trends stay on a good track. Shah said they are looking at revisiting masks in schools after the February break next week.

“The trends are encouraging and favorable, but what we’re looking for now is continued stability,” Shah said.

Other New England states already have set dates for masking to become optional in schools, including Feb. 28 in Massachusetts, Connecticut and in Vermont with schools that have 80 percent or higher vaccination rates. Rhode Island set March 4 for masks to become optional in schools, while New Hampshire, like Maine, has not yet set a date. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island had statewide mandates in place for indoor masking in schools, while Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire make recommendations to schools on masking.

U.S. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also said this week that updated recommendations on masking are likely coming soon, but she didn’t set a timeline. National news reports suggested the new guidelines would be announced next week.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals dropped to 245 on Friday, a decrease of 40 percent in just the last month. Of those hospitalized, 60 are in critical care, compared to a pandemic peak of 133 on Dec. 19.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases reported in Maine’s K-12 schools declined for the third week in a row, from 12,967 on Feb. 3 to 11,591 on Feb. 10 to 8,834 on Feb. 17. The figures represent the number of cases reported in schools over the previous 30 days.

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