The coronavirus is continuing to spread like wildfire across Maine, with new cases flaring up just about everywhere, record numbers of Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 and the state’s cumulative number of confirmed infections rapidly approaching 10,000.
Although Maine continues to look better than many other states on some key measures after keeping the virus mostly at bay during the summer and early fall, it’s still a perilous moment. And it’s been particularly perilous over the past three weeks in particular, as Maine has continued to see new daily cases in the triple digits.
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Transmission appears to be accelerating as freezing weather drives more Mainers indoors and many of them consider celebrating the holidays with friends and relatives — festive gatherings that could be ripe occasions to spread the deadly pathogen. The prospect of transmission during the holidays led Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday to warn Mainers against in-person Thanksgiving gatherings. On Thursday, she instituted 9 p.m. curfews at a number of businesses.
Here are five numbers that show just how bad the virus situation has grown in Maine over the past few weeks:
6: The number of days it took Maine to cross the threshold of 9,000 cases after hitting 8,000.
While Maine will soon reach the grim milestone of 10,000 total cases of COVID-19 since last March, the more shocking development may be just how quickly it’s getting there.
Between March and mid-October, it took a month or longer for the state to add each new increment of 1,000 cases. But that rate has sped up markedly since late October, with the state jumping from 6,000 to 7,000 cases in 13 days; 7,000 to 8,000 in nine days; and 8,000 to 9,000 in just six.
Now, the state could top 10,000 total cases by this weekend after passing 9,000 last Sunday and 9,700 on Thursday.
31.61: The percentage of Maine’s coronavirus cases the state has recorded in November alone.
Just 18 days into November, Maine has recorded 3,077 new coronavirus cases — more than it recorded in any other full month of the pandemic. In October, the month with the second highest number of cases, the state saw 1,281 new cases.
Health officials have pointed to a number of reasons for the sharp growth, including an increasing number of indoor gatherings as colder weather makes it harder to see friends and family outside, the reopening of many types of businesses and institutions since the summer, the “pandemic fatigue” that may be causing Mainers to drop their guards on precautions such as mask-wearing, and cold, dry weather that may improve the ability of droplets of coronavirus to spread through the air.
13: The number of days it took for November to become the third deadliest month during the pandemic.
April and May marked grim stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine, with the state recording 51 and 37 coronavirus deaths, respectively. Those tallies came as the virus invaded long-term care facilities whose residents have accounted for a majority of Maine’s COVID-19 deaths.
The numbers of deaths slowed after the spring, dropping to the single digits in September and October. But that changed quickly in November. In just six days, it had already topped all of October for the number of deaths. And 18 days into November, Maine has already recorded the same number of deaths that it recorded in August, September and October combined.
With 24 deaths so far, November is already the third deadliest month of the pandemic to date. More tragedy could easily follow now that the state is recording a seven-day rolling average of nearly 200 new cases per day, some of which are in nursing homes.
To be sure, Maine still has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, but the pandemic has taken a deadly turn in Maine this month.
88: The number of Mainers hospitalized with the coronavirus on Thursday.
Along with the uptick in deaths, the number of Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 has reached new highs this month, setting a one-day record of 88 on Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.
As recently as Oct. 25, the number of people in Maine hospitals with COVID-19 was in the single digits. Before then, the last time the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations had been above just 20 was on July 8, when 22 people were in the hospital.
For now, health care providers have said they are prepared to handle the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases and that they have learned how to treat the virus more effectively since last spring. Thirty-five of the state’s 88 hospitalized patients were in intensive care on Thursday, including 12 who were on a ventilator. There are still 92 open critical care beds in the state and 242 available ventilators.
But some hospital officials have said that they could run into shortages of staff and protective supplies if they become swamped, especially since the cold and flu seasons will cause more patients to suffer coronavirus-like symptoms. Hospitals could have to delay some elective services if enough workers become sick. If the state’s two largest hospitals in Portland and Bangor do fill up, they also are prepared to open satellite facilities in those cities.
15: The number of Maine counties that recorded a new case of COVID-19 on Thursday.
Back during Maine’s first surge of COVID-19 in the spring, only a handful of the state’s most populous counties — Cumberland, York and Androscoggin — regularly recorded more than one or two new cases each day, with outbreaks at places such as nursing homes and factories driving the growth.
But just on Thursday, 15 of 16 Maine’s counties had new cases of COVID-19 as the state recorded a daily total of 217 new cases. Only Piscataquis County did not have any, and those numbers were unexceptional for this week.
That’s because the virus has now become so widespread across Maine that it’s spreading between people in smaller towns and cities who have no known connection to outbreaks. However, the more COVID-19 circulates in the community, the more likely it is that new outbreaks will start to emerge, said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, after 14 new outbreaks were discovered during a recent three-day stretch. Those outbreaks will lead to yet more cases, Shah said, characterizing the pattern as a “vicious cycle.”
“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,” he said.