The coronavirus pandemic is showing signs of stabilizing in Maine despite the record-high 753 new cases the state health agency reported Wednesday.
The influx in newly reported cases is largely due to the Maine Center for Disease Control clearing a backlog of test samples and boosting staffing to speed up its handling of lab results, Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said.
“The pandemic, even though it is still with us and in every corner of the state, does not show signs right now in the recent days, or recent week, of accelerating,” Shah said. “Indeed, if anything, it shows signs of stability, and maybe even a bit of contraction.”
While Maine kept the virus in relative check throughout the summer and early fall, cases began surging around the start of November. Maine has now seen two-thirds of its virus cases since Nov. 1, and about a third of those hospitalized with the virus throughout the pandemic have been hospitalized in the past 30 days. November and December have been the deadliest months.
TRACKING THE CORONAVIRUS IN MAINE
However, a stable test positivity rate — the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive — and a lower number of positive test results coming in over the past week are the primary indicators that Maine’s virus situation could be stabilizing, according to Shah.
Maine’s positivity rate was lower than 1 percent for much of the fall, and while it’s been substantially higher this month — a sign that the virus is circulating more widely — the rate hasn’t changed much so far in December.
Over the past seven days, Shah said, the positivity rate has been 4.28 percent. At the start of December, the seven-day positivity rate was 4.19 percent.
The state over the past week has seen a lower number of positive test results, even as the number of tests administered has been stable. Maine saw an average of 305 new positive, lab-performed viral tests each day over the past week, compared with 370 the week before.
TRACKING THE CORONAVIRUS IN MAINE
And it’s not as if the decrease in positive lab tests has been offset by positive results from another kind of test, Shah said, which is a good sign. The state isn’t seeing an increase in positive antigen tests, which produce results more quickly and don’t require laboratory testing.
While the virus situation could be stabilizing, daily COVID-19 case numbers are likely to be high for the next few days or longer as the state health agency continues to clear its backlog of test samples, Shah said.
The Maine CDC has hired more people to review lab results and determine next steps in each case, streamlined the process to help employees act on positive case results faster, and made IT improvements, Shah said.
However, the high number of daily cases can’t be entirely attributed to clearing the test sample backlog. The state has seen an increase in virus cases following gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday, and Shah has said that phenomenon doesn’t bode well for virus trends following Christmas and New Year’s.
Some of the increased virus activity, he said, could also have to do with dry winter air that could help the virus spread more easily. It’s not possible to identify which factors have been the largest contributors to the growth in new cases, Shah said.
It is still important for Mainers to keep following safety precautions — particularly over the holidays — since COVID-19 is present and spreading across the state, Gov. Janet Mills said.
“We in Maine are still very much in the throes of this virus, as is every state in the country,” she said. “We can and we must do better controlling this as we approach this holiday weekend especially, and the new year with humility and trepidation.”