Maine's COVID-19 Deaths And Cases Rise, As State Investigates New And Expanding Outbreaks

Sep 15, 2020

Another Mainer with COVID-19 has died, as the total number of cases of the disease diagnosed among residents since the pandemic's onset grew overnight to 4,918, a net increase of 15.

That's according to new figures the Maine Center for Disease Control posted on its website Tuesday morning. The death occurred in Somerset County. The net increase in cases of 15 represents the number of new cases diagnosed minus some previously diagnosed cases that turned out to be negative.

Half of Tuesday's new cases occurred in York County, said Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah Tuesday at a press briefing. At least one outbreak there, which includes dozens of cases at the York County Jail facility in Alfred, has been linked to an August 7 wedding and reception in Millinocket. 

Shah said the Millinocket event is now associated with 176 cases of COVID-19 in different parts of the state, and seven deaths. None of the people who died attended the wedding and were infected indirectly, Shah said. Six of those deaths have occurred at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation facility in Madison, located in Somerset County.

Shah said a total of 39 cases of the virus have now been detected at Maplecrest. One recent death there is not yet included in Maine's tally of 137, and will be added to Wednesday's figures, Shah said. 

Shah said state officials are also investigating a new outbreak at ND Paper, in the Oxford County town of Rumford, where four cases have been diagnosed.  Shah said all 600 employees at the plant are now being tested, as health officials try to determine where the cases originated.

He said two cases at Saint Dominic Academy in Lewiston are also being investigated, but he says the cases are not yet being classified as an outbreak.

Shah said he and other state health officials are concerned about the outbreaks in different parts of the state, and the rapid spread of COVID-19 in places such as York County.

"Everyone ought to be concerned about where we stand with COVID-19," Shah said. "The virus is spreading in communities in and around York County with remarkable force," he said. "And across the state, even in areas where we had previously not seen cases, let alone outbreaks, we are now starting to see them."

Heightening that concern, he said, is the approach of flu season. "The possibility of  of two concurrent epidemics arriving in state of Maine is a possibility we cannot ignore," he said. "If we don't get a stronger grip on COVID-19 now, the fall and winter will be much more difficult."

With Halloween six weeks away, Shah said it’s difficult to know what the COVID-19 situation will be in the state at that point. But for now, he said, the approach to the holiday should be similar to the one applied to schools reopening.

“Which is with the intention of going in trying to have those activities happen, and coming up with guidance and some good principles to have them happen safely,” he said.

Shah said that includes physical distancing from people outside your household.

The Lewiston Auburn Chamber of Commerce Announced Tuesday that it won’t hold its annual Downtown Trick or Treat this year because it would be difficult to enforce the 100 person limit on outdoor events.

Meanwhile, Shah said the CDC Has now closed investigations into three other outbreaks, one at the Seal Rock facility in Saco, and the other two at Maine blueberry farms, Merrill Farms and Wyman's Farm.

Right now, he said, Maine's 7-day weighted average positivity rate is .63 percent. While the national rate is far higher at 5%, Maine's rate has been as low as .49%. "There's been a slight uptick just over the past week," Shah said.

Also in just the past week, he said, there have been four COVID-19 deaths in Maine, and the Maine CDC has "opened several outbreak investigations in just in the past few days in counties across the state where there were previously few outbreaks."

He urged Mainers to avoid large gatherings and to wear masks and social distance before an outbreak occurs, not just in response to one.  Waiting until after the disease turns up is "like changing your diet after you've had a heart attack," he said. "Our approach should not be to wait until there is a pin on the map over our town. Right now, that pin covers the entire state of Maine."

Nonetheless, there was a jump overnight in the number of Mainers who have recovered from the disease to 4,280, an increase of 43 since Tuesday.

That leaves 501 active cases that the state is tracking, a drop of 29 overnight. Overall, 432 Mainers have had to be hospitalized at some point during their illness. Ten people are currently hospitalized, five of them in intensive care.  None of them are on ventilators.

Updated at 5:42 p.m. Sept. 15, 2020.

Maine Public reporter Patty Wight contributed to this story.