Governor Janet Mills announced a slowdown on plans to open restaurants at the opening as a result of epidemiological trends in three Maine states on Wednesday, when the country reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths.
Mills said he was delaying the reopening of restaurants for dinner services in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties because of the increasing number of new cases and hospitalizations. Dinner services at restaurants in these countries have been scheduled to begin on Monday, but they will now only be allowed to offer outdoor dining.
The governor said the state would immediately renew guidelines for outdoor dinners for restaurants, and he urged city governments in three counties to consider closing roads for vehicle traffic so the restaurant could build outdoor seating areas.
He said the date for eating indoors would be set in the future for the three districts. Dine-in seating will be allowed on the Penobscot Count on Monday, and restaurants in 12 other states have been open for about two weeks, under guidelines that require distance from customers and other measures to prevent transmission of the virus.
Other businesses will be allowed to open on Monday under state guidelines, as planned, Mills said.
After last week’s surge in cases linked in part to an outbreak at Cape Memory Care, a home in Cape Elizabeth for dementia patients, the daily increase in the number of cases has slowed as the country expanded its testing capabilities and its ability to track positive cases.
Mills will join Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 2 pm. for updates on the country’s reopening plan. Wednesday’s number of cases showed an increase from 39 people who had recovered, bringing the total recovery to 1,357. Active cases decreased by 13 since Tuesday, to 699. Overall cases reached 2,137 on Wednesday, with 81 total deaths.
A woman in her 70s and a man in her 80s, both from Cumberland County, were reported deaths on Wednesday, Shah said.
Hospitalization is currently reduced from 60 on Tuesday to 59 on Wednesday. Of the 59 patients, 25 were in critical care, down from 26 on Tuesday. And 14 patients used ventilators, up from 13 on Tuesday.
Hospitalization rates and death trends are the main metrics to track the progress of the virus and efforts to curb transmission. Intensive care beds and ventilators are important tools for treating hospitalized patients, and epidemiologists monitor demand for these devices as they study the spread of the disease.
Test numbers were also released on Wednesday, with 9,183 tests carried out during the past week, compared to around 7,000 the previous week and about three times the 3,000 tests conducted per week in April and early May. The positive percent rate is at 3.4 percent for testing that occurred during the past week. Cumulatively, the COVID-19 positive rate for Maine is around 5 percent of all tests.
Shah had said before that one of the main objectives to curb the spread of the virus was to increase contact testing and tracking and reduce the percent tested positive to levels seen in South Korea – around 2-3 percent. South Korea is considered as one model of how aggressive testing and tracing can withstand an outbreak and allow easing of social distance requirements.
The new figures follow Tuesday’s announcement from Maine. The CDC plans to employ 125 more full-time employees to track COVID-19 contacts, adding to the 30 currently doing work.
Contact tracing has been used by public health officials for hundreds of years to fight diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox and, more recently, the Ebola virus. This involves identifying both people who have contracted the virus and those who may have been in contact with these people during their infection.
After the contact list was established, the people were then summoned and told to quarantine for 14 days. Even the smallest transmission interruption can prevent exponential spread.
At present, Maine CDC has a team of 30 contact tracers – up from 15 from before the coronavirus pandemic – but have begun adding more. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the country’s goal was to recruit diverse groups, especially given the racial differences in the COVID-19 case. Including volunteers, Maine can have 205 people working on contact tracing, which is in line with expert recommendations of 15 per 100,000 people.
He estimates that the cost to increase contact tracing is around $ 7.5 million and is entirely from federal coronavirus funding provided to the state.
The traditional summer kickoff – Memorial Day weekend – is now in the rear view mirror, but the Mills government still determines how to handle the tourist season. Many make-or-break businesses are during the tourist season, but traveling and gathering in large crowds is one of the main ways this disease has spread.
Shah said on Tuesday that he was encouraged by the behavior he saw during the holiday period.
“On my trip over the weekend … what we saw was extraordinary obedience,” he said, referring to people who maintain physical distance and wear facial masks when appropriate. “I think it speaks a lot to the fact that people want to do the best for their community.”
Shah acknowledged that “not everyone wants to come.”
“Question No. 1 that we can ask other people … isn’t what they believe but why? What does one need to understand that this is a serious problem?”
Lambrew said the country’s approach to enforcing these guidelines was to remind people that this was a public health crisis and “violations put people at immediate risk.” He said the country was always looking for whether to adjust its guidelines, including the 14-day quarantine needed for overseas visitors, but there were no treatments or vaccines, there were “not many good alternatives.”
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