Maine is considering whether to ease its restrictions on large outdoor gatherings as the Maine Center for Disease Control reports two more deaths from COVID-19, and six more cases.
The death toll from the pandemic now stands at 121, and the total number of cases since the pandemic's onset at 3,838.
One of the deaths was a man in his 70s from Androscoggin County and the other a woman in her 70s from Lincoln County.
A total of 3,319 people have recovered from the virus, leaving the number of active cases the state is tracking at 398, 23 fewer than Monday.
At a press briefing Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said 12 Mainers are hospitalized with the illness, seven of them in the ICU. Two people are on ventilators.
Of Maine's cases, 882 have been among health care workers, Shah said. Most of them have recovered, and none have died, he said.
Shah said the state is tracking three new outbreaks, one at the Sappi Paper Mill in Westbrook, where three cases have been detected, and another at Central Maine Medical Center, where 12 cases have been diagnosed, two of them among patients. Shah said state is working with both facilities on testing and other measures.
He said the third outbreak, at Hancock Foods, was discovered as a result of "proactive testing" that the facility undertook. Five cases were found, he said. Those cases are not included in the CDC's count for Tuesday, Shah said, and will be added to Wednesday's totals.
He said the state continues to track an outbreak of 21 cases at the Marshwood Center in Lewiston, where another round of testing is currently underway.
Shah said Maine's 7-day positivity rate now stands 1.08%. The rate for the nation as a whole, he said, is 9%. Over the past 7 days, he said, Maine has conducted an average of 2,400 tests a day.
Shah was joined at the briefing by Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, who said the state is considering easing restrictions on large outdoor gatherings, now limited to no more than 50 people. Lambrew said the review was prompted by new evidence bolstering the case that outdoor activities carry less risk of spreading the virus. It's not clear how any easing might affect the fall school sports season.
"There's a study that suggested that the risk of transmission from outdoor activities, at least according to this one study, is approximately 20 times lower than the same type of activities, were those activities to be held indoors," Shah says.
Lambrew also defended the state’s decision not to exempt visitors from additional states from testing and quarantine requirements, as requested this week by Republican lawmakers. She says Maine evaluates certain data points when deciding which states to exempt, and some numbers may look close when they’re not.
“If we were to have the same positivity rate in Maine as Massachusetts, which is about a percentage point higher than Maine, instead of having 270 cases in the last two weeks, roughly, we would have had about 780 or 790 cases in the past two weeks,” she says.
Right now, residents from New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are exempt from those requirements because their epidemiological trends are "similar" to Maine's, Lambrew said.