Maine, which had the nation’s highest COVID-19 infection rate a month ago, now ranks 42nd and has the second lowest rate of new cases in the eastern United States.

And new federal data released Thursday shows all 16 counties are now designated as having low or medium community levels of the virus. Twelve counties are now designated as low, which means there is no longer a formal masking recommendation for most of the state based on reduced case counts and hospitalizations.

The state has seen new cases and hospitalizations drop dramatically over the past four weeks after a surge of cases in the Northeast briefly made Maine the nation’s No. 1 hot spot in early May.

Maine’s infection rate has dropped from 407 new cases per 100,000 residents one month ago to 134 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, according to the latest data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maine’s rate is now the eighth lowest among all states and well below the national seven-day infection rate of 220 cases per 100,000 people.

Connecticut, with 135 cases per 100,000 residents, is the only state east of the Mississippi River with a lower infection rate. Hawaii and Florida are the nation’s hot spots now.

The new county-level data from the federal CDC shows that 12 of the state’s 16 counties are in the lowest of the three categories that the CDC uses to track community levels. The other four counties – Piscataquis, Penobscot, Hancock and Washington – are classified as having a medium rate of spread and hospitalizations.


For residents of the 12 Maine counties classified as having a low rate of spread, the CDC advises people to stay up to date on vaccines and boosters, improve ventilation in indoor spaces and get tested if they have symptoms. People who live in areas with a medium rate of spread are  advised to take additional precautions, such as talking to a health care provider about whether to wear a mask if they are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. People in those areas also are advised to talk to a health care provider about whether they should take anti-viral medications, and to have a plan to get rapid testing for COVID.

All residents, regardless of where they live, are advised to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings.

The new federal county-level data and the national infection rate are dramatically changed from one month ago.

Maine had a sharp increase in COVID infections just after Jan. 1 following the arrival of the omicron variant. Then the CDC reported a steady decline until early May, when new, more contagious omicron subvariants spread through the Northeast and drove a new wave of cases and hospitalizations in Maine.


That pattern is likely to persist, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, told Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” show Wednesday.


“Things are on a better trajectory in Maine than they have been in the last couple of weeks,” Shah said. “This is what our future with COVID is likely to be like. … This ebb-and-flow pattern is something that is likely to be with us for some time.”

Maine’s hospitalizations and new cases continued to fall Thursday.

There were 132 patients hospitalized with COVID statewide as of Thursday morning, including 19 in critical care and eight on ventilators. That number is down from 139 on Wednesday and down 43 percent from May 17, when Maine reported a three-month peak of 231 hospitalized patients.

The state also reported 319 new cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average down to 258 new cases per day. The state was reporting an average of more than 800 new cases a day in early May.

The rate of positive tests submitted to the state and the percentage of all tests that come back positive also have steadily declined over the past four weeks. And wastewater tests also continue to show a general decline in virus levels around the state.

One additional death was reported by the Maine CDC on Thursday. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 265,242 cases and 2,401 deaths.

Staff Writer Edward Murphy contributed to this report.

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