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Officials Urge Mainers To 'Do The Right Thing' And Mask Up, Stay Distant

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Workers at Reed and Reed Construction wear masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus while attending at campaign stop by Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Woolwich, Maine.

Updated Friday, Nov. 6, 2020: 

The head of the Maine Center for Disease Control is urging people to “do the right thing” by wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.

Dr. Nirav Shah made the plea during a news briefing on Friday, when the state once again set a record for new daily cases of COVID-19 with 184.

If you want a sense of how much the key COVID-19 metrics in Maine have shot up, just look at the past two weeks. The state’s positivity rate has tripled from 0.5 percent to 1.7 percent. Hospitalizations have more than quadrupled, from 8 to 37. And of the total number of cases recorded in Maine so far, 18% occurred in the past two weeks.

“The bottom line is that the situation in Maine with respect to COVID-19 continues to show rapidly expanding community transmission.”

Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says something else has increased: the number of people interacting with each other. The average number of close contacts that people with COVID-19 reported to the CDC from March to the present was 3.5. But in October alone, that number grew to almost 6. Shah says the increase underscores the importance of wearing masks.

“Widespread masking would have a rapid and significant impact on the rates of transmission of COVID-19 across the state, and across the country,” he says.

Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order this week that requires people to wear masks in both indoor and outdoor public settings, regardless of distancing. Shah says the focus is on public settings because that’s where we’re most likely to encounter others.

The change means that diners in restaurants now must wear face coverings at all times, except for when they’re eating. Runners whose routes include sidewalks should cover up, too. When considering exactly when to wear a face mask outdoors, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, Jeanne Lambrew says use common sense and consider whether you’ll encounter someone else.

“When you’re asking yourself the question whether there’s a need to do it, you probably should,” she says.

Though the executive order focuses on public settings, small household gatherings are considered a primary driver behind the surge in cases in Maine. Dr. Shah says people shouldn’t mistake the order to mean masks aren’t necessary for private get-togethers.

“We are absolutely at the time period where wearing face coverings while just casually hanging out with friends is the right thing to do, especially if you’re indoors,” he says.

We’ve entered a time, state officials say, when everyone should ask themselves whether they’re doing the right thing to keep themselves and others safe. Asked what additional steps the state might take if rates of COVID-19 continue to increase, Commissioner Lambrew said that the Mills administration is looking for lessons and strategies in other states.

There were no new deaths related to the disease reported Friday — that number holds at 150.

In total, 7,444 Mainers have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those, 5,830 have recovered, leaving 1,464 active cases.