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As Maine continues to expand testing for the coronavirus, the share of positive tests continues to drop, a good sign for the state’s overall trajectory despite increases in the rate of new cases and hospitalizations over the past few weeks.
The increase in cases and hospitalizations comes as Maine continues resuming business activities, though Gov. Janet Mills clawed back reopening plans Wednesday after a weekend surge in hospitalizations tied mostly to long-term care facilities in southern Maine. The Bangor Daily News is tracking these measures weekly as the state’s reopening unfolds.
Maine is significantly ramping up testing. That affects other metrics. Nearly 8,400 viral tests were conducted over the past week, according to data released Wednesday by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as 785 new antibody tests. Viral tests track current cases, while antibody tests determine whether a person has had the virus.
The state has reported 2,137 cases of the virus so far and 81 deaths as of Wednesday. In total, nearly 50,000 tests have been completed since mid-March, with 92 percent of being viral tests. Through May 20, the state had averaged a little more than 4,000 tests per week.
The data released Wednesday marked the first full week of data since Maine announced the end of its testing prioritization system, whereby testing was reserved for health care workers, individuals with pre-existing conditions and other vulnerable populations.
The rate of positive tests declined as testing rose, suggesting that increased detection plays a significant role in the rise in cases. The rate of positive tests over the past week was 4.2 percent, lowering the overall positivity rate to 5.2 percent, down from 5.4 percent last week.
The positivity rate is one metric the state evaluates when considering the pace of Maine’s reopening because it provides a way to gauge whether current testing levels are enough to assess the prevalence of coronavirus in a community.
Experts say it is a good sign if the positivity rate is less than 10 percent, and Maine’s has been lower than that throughout the course of the outbreak. Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said Wednesday that expanding testing and lowering the positivity rate remained a goal for the state.
“We still have a ways to go,” he said. “Our goal is to get the positivity rate as low as possible, ideally toward 2 percent, suggesting that we still have more testing that needs to be done across the state.”
Mills cited rising hospitalizations for delaying reopening plans, though the uptick was tied to long-term care facilities in the Portland area. The number of patients hospitalized for the coronavirus in Maine spiked over the weekend. As of Wednesday, there were 59 patients currently hospitalized with the virus, up from 43 a week earlier.
Shah said Tuesday that the uptick in hospitalizations was primarily driven by outbreaks at long-term care facilities and community spread in the Portland area, a part of the state that has remained mostly closed while restaurants and retailers have been permitted to open in more rural parts of the state.
Citing increased hospitalizations in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties, Mills announced Wednesday that the state was postponing the reopening of indoor dining services in those three counties, which was previously set to occur June 1.