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Janet Mills Urges Mainers To Hunker Down For Thanksgiving Amid Spike In COVID-19 Hospitalizations

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Frank Mitchell rides home with groceries while wearing a face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Portland, Maine.

State public health officials reported a record number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Wednesday. In light of the state’s troubling trend with the coronavirus, Gov. Janet Mills is urging Mainers to embrace safety precautions and avoid unnecessary trips, and she says that the coming weeks will present a critical test for the state.

In a virtual news briefing, Mills compared the current COVID-19 numbers in Maine with those of a month ago. In October, the state saw a daily average of about 20 new cases, seven hospitalizations and a positivity rate that hovered around 0.5 percent. On Wednesday, the state reported 156 new cases, a record 85 people in the hospital and a positivity rate of 2.6 percent.

Four more people with COVID-19 have died, bringing the total number of deaths to 170. The number of active cases across the state is 2,120.

The winter surge is here, Mills says, and she once again urged Mainers to wear face masks, practice social distancing and wash hands. It’s also time, Mills says, to hunker down.

“Think every time you want to do something, go somewhere that you’re used to doing and going to, ‘Do I really have to go out right now? Do I really have to go there?’” she says. “Returning to normal sometime next year — hopefully, hopefully — requires us to survive the holidays this year. And next week and the coming weeks will be a crucial test for all of us.”

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew says those who are getting tested as a precaution need to keep in mind that symptoms can still appear after a negative result.

“A negative test is a snapshot. It’s is not a free pass to enjoy Thanksgiving without physical distancing, without face masking,” she says.

The director of the state CDC, Nirav Shah, says that Canada’s Thanksgiving celebrations offer a cautionary example. Two weeks after the holiday in October, the country saw a significant increase in COVID-19 cases.

Mills says she doesn’t currently plan to issue a stay-at-home order as she did last spring. She says that was an option at the time because the federal government had provided a financial safety net for workers and businesses.

“That help is not there right now. So it would be even tougher to take those kinds of dramatic measures,” she says.

Mills says she’s constantly evaluating gathering and capacity limits. And she says guidance on how businesses can enforce the statewide mask mandate will be issued soon.