Maine health officials reported just eight new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, tying for the lowest one-day total since the early days of the pandemic.
Two of the new cases were associated with the Cumberland County Jail, which has now seen a total of three cases, which meets the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of an outbreak. Universal testing for inmates and employees is underway.
Gov. Janet Mills also announced Tuesday that seven health care organizations are preparing to launch 18 “swab and send” COVID-19 test collection sites across the state to test residents, tourists and seasonal workers and help keep the state’s numbers trending downward.
Mills said she is encouraged that Maine has avoided some of the spikes in cases that other states are seeing but cautioned that “it’s not cause for celebration.”
“Maine is not immune. We’re not out of danger. We have to remind ourselves every day that this deadly virus is still here,” the governor said. “Maine people have done an extraordinary job … but we can’t let up.”
The state reported no new deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, keeping the total at 114, which is lower than all but nine other states. By comparison, Florida logged 132 COVID-19 related deaths on Monday alone.
Additionally, 54 more people have recovered, bringing the number of active cases to 390, down from 436 on Monday.
The Maine CDC has tracked 3,566 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since mid-March. Maine has averaged 17 new cases per day over the past 10 days, which is well below the average of 38 new cases per day during the previous 10-day period. There have been only four days since late March in which daily case numbers were in the single digits, but two of those have come in the past nine days – Tuesday and on July 6. Hospitalizations remain low in Maine as well – just 18 patients were hospitalized as of Tuesday – and have been falling steadily since peaking in late May.
Many other states are trending in the opposite direction. As of Sunday, Maine was one of only three states (along with Delaware and New Jersey) that reported declining rates of new cases compared with the previous week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. By comparison, 33 states saw higher rates, led by major spikes in heavily populated states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. The rate of new cases was steady in 14 states. As a result, many states that had lifted restrictions have now been forced to reinstate them.
Other states also are seeing unusual backlogs in getting test results because national labs have been inundated. Maine officials said that hasn’t happened here, and that all tests processed by the state’s lab are turned around within 24 to 48 hours.
The United States has slightly more than 4 percent of the world’s population, but has accounted for 25 percent, or 3.3 million, of the 13.1 million cases worldwide, and 24 percent, or more than 135,000, of the roughly 572,000 deaths around the world.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday that the state continues to test a broad cross-section of people and has seen its positivity rate fall dramatically. The seven-day average rate is about 1 percent, he said. Other states are seeing rates well into the double digits.
Now that summer has arrived and more out-of-state visitors are coming to Maine, there has been concern that the state’s numbers would creep up. However, Shah said of all the positive cases documented in Maine to date, only 111, or 3 percent, have been from people whose primary residence was outside the state.
The governor’s executive order that says visitors from most states need to provide proof of a negative test or quarantine for 14 days remains in effect.
Although visitors are advised to get tested in their home state, Tuesday’s announcement about the expansion of mobile test sites from Portland to as far north as Fort Kent could help fill any gaps. Some sites are already in operation, while others will come online in the next two weeks. The state has partnered with the following organizations: Northern Light Health, Penobscot Community Health Care, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Mount Desert Island Hospital, Calais Regional Hospital, Northern Maine Medical Center and Promerica Health LLC.
“Expanding access to testing is critical to keeping COVID-19 infection rates in Maine relatively low,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in a statement. “Creating Maine-based testing capacity is especially important as national laboratories struggle to handle other states’ surge of COVID-19 cases. It prevents the Maine State lab from experiencing the shortages of testing supplies and reagents that occurred early in the pandemic.”
Face coverings remain a flashpoint as the pandemic wears on. President Trump, who had long resisted encouraging wearing masks, was photographed for the first time wearing one when he visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday.
There is a growing body of research that concludes widespread mask-wearing in public dramatically reduces the risk of the virus spreading, and many experts have said it’s the best tool we have to safely reopen the economy. U.S. CDC Director Robert Redfield underscored that point Monday by saying that if everyone more a mask in public for the next six weeks, “we could drive this (coronavirus) into the ground.”
Shah talked at length about face coverings during an appearance Tuesday on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network call-in show “Maine Calling.” He said the research has become more clear that “face coverings play an outsize role in protecting all of us from getting COVID-19,” and added that a recent executive order from the governor gives retailers more authority to enforce mask-wearing.
But Shah also acknowledged, as he has many times before, that shaming people into wearing masks isn’t the way to go.
“What I recommend to folks, and what I’ve tried to do in my own life, is try to make the mask a positive thing,” he said. “It’s part of what we owe each other as a community.”
Stephanie Kelley-Romano, an associate professor and the chair of Rhetoric, Film and Screen Studies at Bates College, also was a guest Tuesday on “Maine Calling” and addressed the culture around mask-wearing.
She said the president’s reluctance to wear a mask and “his kind of ambivalence when he talks about it … is troublesome.”
“I think people are associating not wearing a mask with staying committed to the president and supporting the president,” she said.
But Kelley-Romano also said research suggests that most people are actually willing to wear masks.
“We hear a lot about the minority or this small group of anti-maskers, so that gets heightened,” she said.