ELLSWORTH — Despite tourism picking up around the region, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests per day recorded among nonresidents has fallen compared to the most recent period in mid-June, according to figures provided by Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesman Robert Long in an email over the weekend.
As of July 18, the Maine CDC had counted a total of 120 positive cases of COVID-19 among out-of-state residents. That’s an additional 13 cases among nonresidents in the period from June 30 to July 18, a rate of 0.72 new cases per day over 18 days.
That’s down markedly from the peak rate of 2.4 new daily cases among nonresidents between June 19 and June 30, when the state reported 26 additional cases among nonresidents over a period of 11 days. That was a substantial increase over the previous period, May 11 to June 19, when the rate of new cases per day among nonresidents was 0.66.
The rate has fluctuated a fair amount since the CDC began reporting cases among nonresidents on April 9. Between April 20 and May 11, there were 18 new cases and an average of 0.86 per day; before that, from April 9 to 20, there were 20 new cases, an average of 1.8 per day.
The Maine CDC has had 57 cases of Maine residents testing positive reported to it from other state health departments, Long said. Cases are counted in a person’s state of residence, meaning those 57 cases of Maine residents testing positive elsewhere are reflected in Maine’s numbers.
The 120 nonresident cases include 22 residents of New Hampshire, 24 from Massachusetts and 17 from New York, Long said.
Not all of the transferred cases involved people who had set foot in Maine, Long said. Some were New Hampshire residents whose health–care providers sent their tests to Maine for processing, he said, and a few were students residing elsewhere who had listed their parents’ Maine addresses for billing purposes.
The release of data on the number of out-of-state residents testing positive has been sporadic and often in response to questions posed by media organizations, but Long said in early July that the CDC would be tallying those cases on a weekly basis, as travel to Maine and around the country increases.
As tourism increases, fears of nonresidents seeding outbreaks have been amplified. A case in late June of seven visitors to an island off Castine who later tested positive sparked concern among residents, but the area has yet to see a surge in cases connected to the incident.
Contact tracing of nonresidents who test positive while in Maine is left to public health officials in the person’s state-of-origin unless it is related to an outbreak, such as an investigation at a Cianbro construction site in Augusta.
Arthur Blank, president and CEO of Mount Desert Island Hospital, told the Portland Press Herald earlier this month that he does have some concerns about leaving contact tracing for nonresident cases to other states.
“If we have a positive case, we report it to the Maine CDC and they communicate directly with the public health officials in that person’s state, and any communication that goes on with the patient is between them,” he said. “So, our concern is that there is no real way of knowing what the quality of that tracing is.”
As of July 20, Hancock County continued to have one of the lowest case rates in the state, with 3.5 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the CDC. Only Washington and Piscataquis counties had lower case rates and had recorded fewer cases.
There had been a total of 19 confirmed and probable cases among Hancock County residents as of Monday, including two hospitalizations and 16 recoveries. One county resident is known to have died from the disease.
Statewide, there had been 118 deaths attributed to the disease as of July 21 and 3,300 confirmed cases. The state also is tracking 423 probable cases among symptomatic individuals who either had close contact with a known, infected person or who had a positive antibody test, for a total of 3,723 confirmed and probable cases.
Over the weekend, Maine recorded its first death of an individual in his 20s. The vast majority of deaths, to date, have been among people over age 60.
While the state’s testing capacity has expanded significantly over the past month, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah cautioned Mainers against relaxing their health and safety protocols, especially with the virus surging elsewhere.
“The sustained resurgence of #COVID19 occurring in other states could easily and quickly take hold here, undoing the great work #Maine people have done,” Shah said in a post on Twitter. “The fire is not yet out, and it would be unwise to walk away until it is. We are still in this. Please, #WearAMask.”