Two more Maine residents have died from the new coronavirus as another 41 cases were confirmed Wednesday.
Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that both were women in their 80s from Cumberland County, where five of the state’s seven deaths have been reported. The other two deaths, confirmed Monday, were both women in their 80s from Kennebec and York counties.
The first death from the coronavirus in the state was confirmed Friday.
There are now 344 cases spread across 13 Maine counties, with the addition of a case in Hancock County, according to Shah. That’s up from 303 on Tuesday.
“That is concerning,” Shah said of the increase. “It is, however, largely consistent with what we’ve seen in other states when they were at the same point in their experience.”
Of those, 63 Maine residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, while another 80 have fully recovered and been released from isolation, according to Shah.
A new case was detected in a patient at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said. A spokeswoman for Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor said Wednesday that a Hancock County resident had tested positive at its Cooper Gilmore Health Center, the second case at the hospital.
Another case had been previously reported in Hancock County last month, but the Maine CDC later determined it involved a Penobscot County resident and included it under that county’s total.
A majority of the cases have been in Maine residents over age 50, while they are evenly split between women and men.
Another 8,400 Maine residents have tested negative for the coronavirus, according to Shah.
Wednesday’s increase in coronavirus cases comes a day after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills took the most extreme step yet in the state’s fight to halt the spread of the coronavirus, ordering most Maine residents to stay at home through the end of April. That order includes exceptions for those making needed trips to get food, medicine and exercise, though social distancing guidelines apply, and others who need to leave home because they are employed at essential businesses. It takes effect Thursday.
Shah said that it’s too early in “the lifecycle of the virus” to know whether social distancing has made an impact on the spread of the coronavirus, but citing Maine Department of Transportation and cellphone location data, he noted that travel is down across the state, particularly in Cumberland County, while physical distance between people is up. Shah said that historical evidence suggests that is “key” to halting the virus’ spread.
“Right now, physical distancing is the best vaccine that we have for COVID-19,” Shah said via videoconference from the Maine Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Augusta.
Work is underway to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, but it is likely 12 to 18 months before it will become available, according to the Associated Press.
So far, the coronavirus has hit hardest in Cumberland County, where 192 cases have been confirmed. It is one of two counties — the other is York County, with 65 cases — where “community transmission” has been confirmed. Shah said his agency is investigating the possibility of community transmission in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Penobscot and Sagadahoc counties, each of which has more than 10 confirmed cases.
There are two criteria for establishing community transmission: at least 10 confirmed cases and that at least 25 percent of those are not connected to either known cases or travel. Shah said that second condition has not yet been “satisfied” in those four counties.
Other cases have been detected in Franklin (2), Hancock (1), Knox (5), Lincoln (8), Oxford (9), Somerset (1) and Waldo (2) counties. Information about where another seven cases were detected was not immediately available Wednesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the virus has sickened 186,101 people in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and caused 3.603 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Watch: What older adults need to know about COVID-19