At least 45 Maine communities that went the first eight months of the pandemic without recording a case of COVID-19 saw their first positive results in November.
It’s another sign that little of Maine has been spared from the coronavirus as the infection’s spread has accelerated dramatically. In November alone, Maine recorded nearly half of its total cases and saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March.
The virus isn’t showing signs of letting up, as Maine on Thursday posted its highest-ever one-day total of new cases, recording 349 new positive results.
Unlike in the first coronavirus surge in the spring, the virus is now spreading virtually everywhere in Maine, with Washington, Somerset and Franklin counties recording some of the highest rates of new cases in recent weeks after seeing little virus activity early in the pandemic.
At the start of November, 95 Maine communities had gotten through the pandemic without recording a single COVID-19 case in a resident, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s ZIP code case data, which the agency releases weekly.
TRACKING THE CORONAVIRUS IN MAINE
By the end of November, on the 29th, the number of Maine ZIP codes without a positive case had fallen to 50 out of the state’s approximately 400 ZIP codes.
The communities that saw their first cases in that time include the island of North Haven in Knox County, Eastport in Washington County, Easton and Mars Hill in Aroostook County, and the Piscataquis County towns of Greenville, Milo, Monson, Sangerville and Sebec. Piscataquis County was the last county in New England to record its first coronavirus case, in mid-April, and has had Maine’s second-lowest infection rate behind Aroostook County.
By the end of November, only two Somerset County towns — Solon and West Forks — had yet to see a resident test positive, down from nine towns in the county that had yet to see a case at the start of the month. With 12 deaths, Somerset County recorded the highest death rate in Maine last month.
In Penobscot County, only Kingman, Lee and Passadumkeag had yet to see a resident test positive at the end of November, down from nine towns without a case at the start of the month.
Thursday’s record number of new cases was likely no blip from backlogs in processing and reporting testing samples from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, said Robert Long, a Maine CDC spokesperson. In addition, the spike can’t be attributed to any single event or large institutional outbreak.
“The case count reported today can best be attributed to ongoing community transmission throughout Maine,” he said.
Any new infections stemming from the Thanksgiving holiday gatherings or travel that public health officials warned against probably aren’t yet showing up in newly confirmed cases, given how long it takes COVID-19 to incubate in people, according to Long.
And while government and commercial laboratories were working to process a backlog of tests over the holiday weekend and at the start of the week — Maine CDC’s lab processed more results from Saturday to Sunday than on any previous weekend in the pandemic — that lag may have only had a “residual” effect by Thursday, Long said.
In addition to Thursday’s one-day new case record, Maine set a record for new deaths reported in a day on Tuesday, when the Maine CDC added 20 deaths to the official tally. The state also reached a record number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at the start of this week, with 139 people with the virus hospitalized on Monday and Tuesday.
While Maine is seeing its highest numbers of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic, a smaller portion of people with the coronavirus are hospitalized now than in the spring — a trend being seen nationally. Some public health experts have said that’s because medical professionals know more now about how to treat the virus than they did in the spring, and can keep more people out of the hospital as a result. Others have said that more testing could be detecting a greater number of mild cases that don’t require hospital care.
In mid-April, about 15 percent of people with active cases of COVID-19 were hospitalized. Only about 5 percent of people with active infections on Wednesday were hospitalized.
While hospitals in the Portland area treated the bulk of COVID-19 patients in the spring, hospitals elsewhere in Maine have admitted more COVID-19 patients in recent weeks.
Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor averaged about 24 COVID-19 patients per day over the past week, up from 23 the week before. MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta also saw its numbers grow in that period, to an average of 17 patients per day over the past week from 13 the week before. And in Lewiston, Central Maine Medical Center averaged 12 COVID-10 patients per day over the past week, up from nine the previous week.
BDN writer Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.