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Maine saw more new coronavirus cases last week for the first time since mid-May with a corresponding increase in the rate of positive tests that is partially linked to spread of the virus among younger people, a state health official said Wednesday.
There were 286 new confirmed or probable cases of the virus over the past week, up from 184 the previous week and 195 the week before that. The increase is likely due to increased testing and increased spread among young people, said Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As there is more resumption of economic and social activity, individuals go back toward the normal lives they had,” Shah said. “It’s likely — if not what we’re seeing now — that there will be additional cases.”
Maine has continued to move forward in resuming economic activities in recent weeks, with hotels and lodging establishments allowed to take out-of-state visitors who had met state requirements last week. Visitors from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey will also be allowed to visit Maine without getting a negative test beginning Friday.
The changes for travel and lodging followed the reopening of indoor dining in the state’s three hardest hit counties in mid-June, as well as a relaxation of capacity limits for retail establishments statewide.
Confirmed cases in Maine have trended younger over the past month as the state has also seen fewer outbreaks at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. An outbreak at Sedgewood Commons, a nursing home in Falmouth where 36 cases of the virus were confirmed over the weekend, was the first at a long-term care facility in Maine since late May.
Shah said the uptick in cases underscored the necessity of wearing face coverings as many resume social and economic activities. Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday she would sign an executive order tightening mask requirements in cities and coastal areas that see many tourists.
The rise in cases comes as Maine has continued to expand coronavirus testing. Increased testing explains part of the uptick in cases, but not all of it, Shah said. More than 12,000 tests were performed over the past week, an increase of nearly 2,000 compared to the previous week.
Nonetheless, the weekly positivity rate, the percentage of tests coming back positive, ticked slightly upward to 2 percent compared to 1.85 percent last week. That increase likely reflects the spread of the virus, Shah said.
Hospitalizations, another metric used to gauge the spread of the virus, were also up slightly compared to the previous week but still remained at a much lower level compared to a few weeks ago. As of Wednesday, there were 29 people hospitalized with the virus compared to 26 a week ago.
The fewer hospitalizations compared to earlier in the outbreak may be related to decreased risk of serious coronavirus complications for younger people. The death rate has also slowed, with only five virus deaths since June 10.