State health officials reported 156 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and four additional deaths, continuing an upward trend that shows no sign of slowing.
It’s the second time in the last eight days that four deaths have been recorded in a single day. There have been 23 deaths so far in November. In the entire month of October, there were only six.
Gov. Janet Mills, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah and Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, will brief the media at 2 p.m. today.
For months, Maine’s daily case totals were among the lowest in the country, bottoming out at an average of 14 cases per day in early August and never going above an average high of 40 cases per day since late May.
In less than a month, however, conditions have changed dramatically.
On Oct. 24, health officials reported more than 50 cases in a day for the first time in almost two months. Five days later, cases reached triple digits for the first time. Since Nov. 2, the number of daily cases has been less than 100 only once. Wednesday marked the 13th time in the last 15 days that daily cases topped 150.
The 7-day average for daily cases is now 192, the highest to date. Some models predict Maine’s daily cases could reach 500 by the end of the month.
In all, there have been 9,519 confirmed or probable cases since the pandemic began, as well as 600 hospitalizations and 170 deaths.
As of Wednesday, there were 85 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 30 in critical care and 10 on a ventilator. A month ago this time, just 11 people were in the hospital. Hospitals have begun preparing for an additional surge in patients and many have the ability to convert beds to critical care if needed.
The number of active cases Wednesday, 2,120, dropped by 52 from a day earlier, which means there were more recoveries than new cases in the last 24 hours. However, it’s still more than three times the number from just one month ago (648), which means there are exponentially more infectious people throughout Maine as the holiday season approaches.
New cases were reported in 14 of 16 counties, led by Cumberland County with 31, York County with 31, and Androscoggin and Penobscot counties with 17 each.
Deaths have now been reported in all but Piscataquis, Sagadahoc and Washington counties. Cumberland County has seen the highest number of deaths with 70, followed by York (27), Waldo (16) and Androscoggin and Kennebec with 14 each.
More than half (94) of the deaths have been individuals over the age of 80. Another 52 were people in their 70s. Fourteen people in their 60s have died, as well as 10 people under the age of 60.
Cases have been skyrocketing across the country in recent weeks, a surge that is crippling hospitals and prompting some states to either reintroduce restrictions or implement new ones.
Mills this month reduced the limit for indoor gatherings, strengthened the state’s mask mandate for public locations and removed Massachusetts from the list of states exempt from a 14-day quarantine or negative test before residents can visit. Additional restrictions could be in store if the trend does not reverse.
Maine Medical Center in Portland announced Wednesday that it was reducing visitor hours to protect staff and patients.
Patients in critical care beds can have two visitors daily between the hours of 3 p.m.-6 p.m. All others can have one visitor between 3-6. Visitors are not allowed to wait in the emergency department.
“We understand that support from families is an important piece of healing for our patients,” hospital President Jeff Sanders said in a statement. “Our goal is to balance that need for family connection with the importance of reducing density in the hospital to keep all of our patients and care team members safe.”
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Sanford office closed on Wednesday after one employee tested positive for COVID-19. The office will re-open “as soon as possible” after people who may have been exposed are contacted, according to a news release.
Androscoggin Bank this week closed all its branch lobbies until further notice in response to the rising cases numbers. Drive-up service is still available.
This story will be updated.