AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine saw its lowest daily total of new COVID-19 cases since last October on Tuesday, a milestone that coincided with the state’s decision to lift most business and social restrictions, including the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people.
Infections have decreased steadily here for more than a month amid the continued national vaccine rollout, a positive sign for Maine’s economic recovery as the state’s tourism industry looks for a comeback after a difficult pandemic year. Early mobility data suggest Mainers are getting out more with summer coming even before Gov. Janet Mills fully lifted restrictions, in line with national trends as virus conditions have improved over the past few months.
The dropping cases suggest Maine has largely been successful in vaccinating enough people to prevent concerning variants of the virus from spreading widely, as epidemiologists feared earlier this spring. Dr. Peter Millard, a former epidemiology staffer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who teaches at the University of New England, said he was “very encouraged” by the trend.
“I don’t think we’re going to have another resurgence unless something really untoward happens like an unexpected variant that’s resistant to the vaccines, which I think is extremely unlikely,” he said. “I think the summer looks very good.”
Despite the improving numbers, the state’s overall infection rate is still higher than it was a year ago. Maine saw an average of 38 daily cases recorded in May 2020 compared with an average of 232 this month so far. The seven-day positivity rate, or share of viral tests coming back positive, sat at 2 percent as of Tuesday, according to data from the Maine CDC. That figure is also higher than last summer, when it dropped below 1 percent.
The epidemiological circumstances around the virus differ considerably from a year ago. Mills’ administration announced Tuesday that 70 percent of eligible Mainers aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. CDC. Nearly 678,000 people — just over 50 percent of the state’s population — have had their final dose.
Mainers have been getting out more as vaccinations have increased, mobility data suggest. Data compiled by Google found that people in Maine are once again visiting restaurants and retail establishments more often than a pre-pandemic baseline. The rest of the U.S. has seen similar trends over the past few months.
While Millard did not expect to see a resurgence of the virus in Maine due to the state’s prevalence of vaccinations, cases are unlikely to hit the low levels they reached last summer as the virus continues to circulate and more than a third of Mainers remain unvaccinated.
Infection rates over the past few weeks have been notably low in Cumberland and York counties, which have among the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Maine, while more cases continue to be reported in central Maine.
Maine could see comparatively higher case rates in rural areas in the coming months as lower vaccination rates provide more opportunities for the virus to spread, though he expected vaccines to still curb the virus somewhat, Millard said.
“We’re talking about sporadic, smaller outbreaks of families and small groups of people, but outbreaks nonetheless,” he said.