Pedestrians comply with Maine Gov. Janet Mills' executive order requiring Maine citizens to wear face coverings in public settings, regardless of the ability to maintain physical distance, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The state has identified 14 new outbreaks of COVID-19 in the last three days alone, with the disease emerging at the state’s largest hospital, multiple schools, long-term care facilities, workplaces, a day care, a church and a social club.

The outbreaks are responsible for 52 new cases of COVID-19, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Monday, and they’re further evidence that the virus’ accelerating spread is leading to more outbreaks, and those outbreaks are contributing to further spread.

The outbreaks themselves are responsible for only about 10 percent of all the new cases Maine has reported over the past three days, as the virus is now spreading more commonly at small, private, indoor gatherings. Earlier in the pandemic, large outbreaks at institutions such as nursing homes were responsible for a large portion of new cases.

“The ground has been seeded with ever increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, and we’re now starting to see patches in the form of outbreaks emerge, all across the state,” Shah said.

Increasing levels of community transmission have made indoor social gatherings more risky, even in small groups of people, he said. When people from these gatherings subsequently go to their workplaces or schools, it leads to more cases that then cause outbreaks and increase community transmission.

Shah called that a “vicious cycle of cases generating more outbreaks,” which can only be broken by reducing the risk of community transmission by following safety precautions, the most important of which is wearing face coverings.

“What we’ve seen is that face covering usage has been uneven, and to be sure face coverings are directly related and directly linked to higher rates of transmission within households,” he said.

Another result of the increase in community transmission has been more cases and outbreaks at public schools, where the virus generally hasn’t been spreading much this school year. Shah on Monday announced new outbreaks at four schools in Auburn, Lewiston, Augusta and Whitefield.

Over the past month, 212 COVID-19 cases have been associated with students and staff at public schools, Shah said. But that doesn’t mean the cases were spread at schools.

“Much of what we are seeing with respect to the numbers of cases of COVID-19 in schools are a direct reflection of the rates of transmission of covid 19 in the community,” he said. “We’ve detected cases not because they have been transmitted or contracted in schools, but merely because that’s where more individuals are being tested and where we are focusing our eyes upon.”

K-12 schools in Maine haven’t generally been conducting their own virus testing of students and staff, but many school officials recommend testing to students or staff who have to quarantine because they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Among the new outbreaks announced Monday was one of a handful of cases at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Two long-term care facilities were also among the mix: Clover Health Care in Auburn, which previously saw an outbreak in May, and Cove’s Edge in Damariscotta.

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