Maine’s spike in COVID-19 cases is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the state’s top public health official said Thursday as the state recorded the second day in a row of record-setting numbers of new cases that have followed weeks of increasing virus cases.
“What we are seeing right now in Maine is sustained, forceful and widespread community transmission across the entire state,” said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The spike Maine is seeing now stands out from the last time the state was seeing similar growth in new daily cases in the spring. Then, the growth was largely driven by large outbreaks at long-term care facilities and some workplaces. The infections were concentrated in more urban and populous Cumberland, Androscoggin and York counties.
Now, the outbreak across the state is much more dispersed, with small, indoor gatherings a prime source of virus transmission, Shah said. Those infected have trended significantly younger. And the virus is hitting just about every county, with Piscataquis the lone exception in the past two days. None of the new cases the Maine CDC reported Thursday are linked to any known outbreaks, which are clusters of three or more connected cases.
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“Unfortunately, based on the epidemiological data, the trajectory that we are sadly on will continue,” Shah said, renewing a request that Maine people wear masks while gathering indoors, reduce the length of such gatherings and crack open windows to improve ventilation. He also warned Mainers against allowing their social bubbles from growing too big.
Ten of the cases Maine has identified in the last day have been in health care workers, and another 10 are linked to nine schools. The average age of the newly infected people is 40 years old, but 13 cases were among kids, including one as young as 5 years old.
Shah pointed to Somerset County as an example of a rural area that accounted for 26 new cases in the last two days that can’t be traced back to any known outbreak at a nursing home or other facility.
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“For weeks now, we’ve talked about what we were seeing on the horizon in other states. That is now here, squarely, right in front of us in Maine. It’s not coming,” he said. “It is here, and unfortunately, based on the epidemiological data, the trajectory that we are sadly on will continue.”
Shah made those statements as the virus has been rebounding across Maine, with new cases ticking upward since mid-August and spiking to record single-day highs — 87 and 94 — on Wednesday and Thursday.
The growth in new cases has also been accompanied by new upticks in hospitalizations and the portion of coronavirus tests coming back positive.
In spite of the new spikes, Gov. Janet Mills has not given any indication that she’ll reverse the latest phase of the state’s economic reopening, which includes an Oct. 13 expansion of seating capacity at restaurants, churches and movie theaters, and a limited opening of bars and tasting rooms at the beginning of next week. The state also recently added Massachusetts to the list of northeastern states whose residents are exempt from a requirement that they quarantine for two weeks or receive a negative COVID-19 test before coming to Maine.