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Daily case counts, the rate of positive tests and hospitalization data all suggest that the coronavirus is continuing to wane in Maine as the state resumes more economic activities.
Restaurants in the three hardest-hit counties were allowed to reopen for limited indoor dining Wednesday, bringing all of Maine to the same place in the reopening process. Gyms, nail salons and tattoo parlors have also been permitted to reopen in the past week, while hotels can begin accepting out-of-state residents who have tested negative for the virus at the end of next week.
The accelerating reopening activities in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties comes with some risk as they are responsible for 83 percent of Maine cases so far, but three of the most important metrics show that Maine is about as ready as ever to reopen safely.
Testing capacity is growing, but case counts are not. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maine surged in mid-May after the state removed its testing prioritization system and began allowing anyone with symptoms to get a test.
At the time, it was difficult to say with certainty whether the increase in cases represented spread or increased detection. A few weeks later, testing levels have remained high while the daily number of new cases has been steadily dropping.
More than 10,100 viral coronavirus tests were conducted over the past week, up from 9,400 the previous week and 9,100 the week before that, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the same time, only 199 new cases were detected over the past week, compared to 219 the previous week and 281 the week before that. The simultaneous increase in testing and decline in cases indicates that the virus is almost certainly spreading less in Maine.
As testing has increased and cases have declined, the share of tests coming back positive has continued to decline too. The overall positivity rate fell to 4.3 percent on Wednesday. Over the past week, just 2.5 percent of tests came back positive, according to state data.
That is a little shy of the 2 percent mark that Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah identified as a top goal, but the state is continuing to move in the right direction.
Hospitalizations were largely flat over the past week but remain lower than a few weeks ago. After declining for much of May, the number of patients hospitalized for coronavirus in Maine surged around Memorial Day, driven by outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the Portland area. They have since come back down.
Data on hospitalizations has also been used as an indicator of the virus’ prevalence, based on the assumption that the most ill patients usually end up in the hospital regardless of testing capacity. Over the past week, the average number of patients currently hospitalized was 30, the lowest weekly average since the state began releasing data in early April.
Hospitalizations can be a lagging indicator, since those who end up in the hospital might have contracted the virus several weeks earlier. But coupled with the decline in overall case counts and the lower positive rate, it is another signal that the virus is likely spreading less in Maine.
The drop in cases and hospitalizations over the past few weeks is a positive sign as Maine moves forward with reopening, but, with more than 450 known active cases as of Wednesday, there is still opportunity for the disease to spread.
At a news conference Monday where Gov. Janet Mills announced the resumption of indoor dining restaurants in Androscoggin, Cumberland and York Counties, Shah cautioned against complacency based on the recent decline in cases.
“We’re not taking our foot off the gas,” Shah said. “We’re continuing to fit test, we’re continuing to push out swabs and transport media, we’re continuing to test. My ask is that everyone watching right now do the same.”