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Maine CDC: Outbreak At Sanford High Grows To 12 Cases, As COVID-19 Spreads In York County

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine's tally of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic hit the state rose overnight by another 40, to a total of 5,146. The death toll remained unchanged at 140.That's according to Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah. At a briefing Tuesday, Shah said nearly 60% of the additional cases were logged in York County, where the CDC is monitoring several outbreaks of the virus, including one at the York County Jail in Alfred, and another at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

Shah said in recent days the CDC has opened investigations into several other outbreaks in the area, including one at Sanford High School, where 12 cases have been identified. Some of the cases have been linked to a pick-up football game Sept. 16, and to a sunrise gathering for seniors, Shah said.

The school, and its associated technical school, have already switched to remote learning, he noted.

When it comes to spreading COVID-19, he said, "out-of-school gatherings matter just as much as in-school gatherings."

Investigators are also looking into several other outbreaks in York County, Shah said, including ones at the Hussey Seating Company in North Berwick, the Wolves social club in Sanford, and the Ogunquit Beach Lobster House.

Shah said the CDC continues to follow other ongoing outbreaks, including seven cases at Baker manufacturing in Sanford, and 21 cases at ND Paper in Rumford.

Meanwhile, he said the CDC has closed investigations into an outbreak of 48 cases at the Marshwood facility in Lewiston, another 15 cases at the Pine Point facility in Scarborough, and a third outbreak of seven cases among first responders in Sanford. 

Shah noted yet another grim U.S. milestone in the pandemic, which has now resulted in 200,000 deaths. "That's more deaths than the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined," he said.  In Maine just since last Thursday, he said, there have been 184 more cases of COVID-19 and two deaths.

Shah also expressed concern about Maine's hospitalization rate, which he said is creeping back up to July levels. "It's a concerning trend, and one we're keeping a sharp eye on."

Since the pandemic's onset in Maine, 442 people have had to be hospitalized at some point during their illness. Currently, 17 people are hospitalized, four of them in intensive care.  There are no COVID-19 patients currently on ventilators.

Still, Maine's postivity rate is far below the national average.  Shah said Maine's 7-day weighted average positivity rate is currently 0.57%, compared with a national rate of about 5%. Maine is now conducting about 400 tests for every 100,000 people, while the national rate is 234 tests per 100,000, he said.

That volume could increase. Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew announced that anyone in Maine who wants a COVID-19 test can now get one, without a special referral from a health care provider. But she warned that a negative test isn't a license to mingle unprotected.

"A negative test doesn't mean it's safe to gather with others, so continue to practice social distancing, wear masks" and following other health and safety guidelines, Lambrew said. "Testing alone will not defeat this virus."  

Meanwhile, the number of recoveries from COVID-19 rose by 23, to 4,407. That leaves 599 active cases that the state is tracking, an increase of 17 since Monday. 

Updated at 3:01 p.m. Sept. 22, 2020.

Barbara grew up in Biddeford, Maine. She earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Southern Maine.