A man tightens a bandanna to serve as a face covering Wednesday in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine is one of only a few U.S. states where COVID-19 cases are estimated to increase, as states that saw a massive surge in infections earlier in the summer start to see declines.

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have fallen 7 percent over the past two weeks compared with the prior two-week period, according to a New York Times analysis. In Maine, however, they have continued to increase, driven by rapid spread in several predominantly rural counties.

Although Maine’s overall case rate remains lower than most U.S. states, cases are still likely to rise here in the immediate future, as the reproduction rate of the virus remains greater than one, according to estimates from a model developed by researchers and Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

The reproduction rate refers to the number of people, on average, to whom each person with COVID-19 spreads the virus. If it dips below one, cases will begin to fall, while cases increase if it remains greater than that. Maine, with an estimated reproduction rate of 1.06, is one of five states where the rate is currently above one, according to the model’s estimates. Researchers caution that such estimates are preliminary and subject to revision.

Public health precautions, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and limiting social interactions, can bring down the reproduction rate. It is also affected by the number of people who have immunity to the virus due to vaccinations or previously being infected.

The virus reproduction rate has declined in Maine in the past few weeks, suggesting that the virus may not be spreading as fast here as it was a few weeks ago. But while Maine could be nearing its peak, cases are still expected to increase in the short term as the rate remains higher than one.

COVID-19 cases began rising in Maine in late July with the surge of the highly contagious delta variant, which took off here slightly later compared with much of the rest of the U.S. The latest trend in cases mirrors patterns earlier in the pandemic, as Maine has often seen cases rise later than much of the U.S., as the state’s relative isolation has limited the spread of the virus here, but ultimately not been enough to prevent it entirely.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine also remains high, with the state seeing new records for the number of patients in critical care units and on ventilators last week. As of Monday, 194 people were hospitalized with the virus, the highest since late January.