Watch briefing: Maine CDC reports another death, 17 new COVID-19 cases

Maine recorded 17 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Wednesday, while the number of active cases continued to decline.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that another 42 people recovered from the virus, bringing the number of active cases down to 442. Overall, Maine has had 2,836 cumulative COVID-19 cases, 102 deaths and 2,275 recoveries. The vast majority of the deaths have been among those over age 70.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, will brief the media at 2 p.m. today.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Shah noted a continued decline in the rate of positive tests. The overall “positivity rate” among the more than 73,000 molecular tests run to date in Maine fell from 4.46 percent on Tuesday to 4.39 percent on Wednesday. Prior to a major testing expansion in mid-May, Maine’s positive rate fluctuated between 5 percent and 6 percent.

A lower rate of positive tests means the state health agency is finding most cases of the disease and quarantining those that have the disease and close contacts to limit the spread of the virus. The goal – Shah has said – is to get the cumulative percent positive rate to about 2 percent, which is similar to South Korea. South Korea’s testing and contact tracing strategy is among the best in the world, and that country has had a far lower death rate, five deaths per 1 million population compared to 359 deaths per 1 million population for the United States. Maine has 75 deaths per 1 million population.

Maine hospitals had 27 coronavirus inpatients on Wednesday, down three from Tuesday. Overall, Maine’s daily hospital population has fallen from a high of 60 in late May to 30 or less in the past week. There were 15 people in critical care and five on a ventilator, continuing a downward trend in those numbers.

Hospitalization rates and death trends are key metrics for tracking the progress of the virus and efforts to contain transmission. Intensive care beds and ventilators are critical tools for treating hospitalized patients, and epidemiologists closely monitor the demand for these resources as they study the spread of the disease.

On Monday, Gov. Janet Mills announced plans to further relax restrictions on restaurants, bars, brewery tasting rooms, fitness centers, nail salons and tattoo parlors in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties. Those three counties account for more than 80 percent of Maine’s COVID-19 cases and continue to experience community transmission of the disease.

Starting Wednesday, restaurants in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties can resume indoor dining service as long as they are following health and safety guidelines, including spacing tables apart, staff wearing face coverings and regular disinfection of surfaces. Gyms, nail salons and tattoo parlors can also reopen to indoor service, with precautions.

Bars and tasting rooms in the three counties will also be allowed to serve customers outdoors on Wednesday. With the latest changes, all 16 of Maine’s counties are operating under the same guidelines for reopening businesses.

This story will be updated.

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