Maine recorded 76 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday – the highest single-day total since the outbreak began – although more than two-thirds are connected to outbreaks at a poultry processing plant and a skilled nursing facility.

There have now been 1,330 cases in Maine since mid-March – 1,231 confirmed cases and 99 probable cases, or individuals who likely have or had the virus based on symptoms and exposure but were never tested.

There were no additional deaths reported Thursday, which means the total number of people who died with COVID-19 in Maine remains at 62.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday at his daily briefing that he expected the number of new cases to increase after universal testing was conducted at Tyson Foods in Portland and at the Springbrook Center in Westbrook.

“This increase in cases has been anticipated for several days,” he said. “We continue to expect finding more cases within long-term care facilities.”

Springbrook, a skilled nursing center that offers rehabilitation, post-hospital and long-term care services, now has 17 cases, up from four on Wednesday. Tyson, in Portland, has 51 cases, up from 12 a day earlier. Shah said both locations will be receiving emergency shipments of personal protective equipment.

Tyson Foods was forced to shut down its facility for deep cleaning but is in the process of reopening with new safety measures in place, in consultation with the CDC. The company said this week that numerous changes were being made to better protect employees. Those include installing partitions between workstations, issuing and requiring use of face coverings, erecting tents for additional break areas, checking employees’ temperature and changing policies to encourage sick employees to stay home.

Maine now has 481 active cases, which is the number of total cases minus those who have recovered or died. That’s the highest total to date, eclipsing the previous peak of 446 cases on April 17.  Public health experts agree that a decline in cases for at least two weeks is one of the most important criteria for determining whether it is safe to begin reopening the economy.

Thursday’s high daily total was overshadowed by an announcement from Gov. Janet Mills that Maine has partnered with Idexx Laboratories of Westbrook to triple its testing capacity – up to 7,000 per week, perhaps by the end of next week.

More testing could likely mean more cases, Shah acknowledged, but the state will be looking at other metrics, including hospitalizations and the rate of positive tests, which remains low compared to other states.

As of Thursday, 192 have been hospitalized in Maine for coronavirus at some point and 39 are currently hospitalized, 16 of them in critical care and 11 on a ventilator.

Maine still has ample resources in hospitals – 149 of 284 critical care beds are available, along with 187 of 333 ventilators.

One in five confirmed cases are health care workers, a population that is at highest risk and also one that the state has prioritized for testing.

In addition to the 1,231 confirmed tests, there have been 22,092 negative tests so far. That puts Maine’s rate of positive tests at about 5.5 percent, which is low compared to other states. The lower the percentage, the more likely a state is testing a broad swath of people to detect the virus’ spread.

Residents of long-term care facilities also have made up a big percentage of confirmed cases, about 20 percent. The state has tracked outbreaks at several nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with Springbrook being the latest. Some of those outbreaks have been especially deadly. At both the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough and at the Commons at Tall Pines in Belfast, 12 residents have died. In all, 54 of Maine’s 62 victims have been 70 or older.

Almost half of all cases and deaths so far have been in Cumberland County, the state’s most populous county. Some critics have pointed to that concentration as reason to let other parts of the state, especially rural areas, open up some businesses sooner.

Gov. Janet Mills has said she’s considering a more regional approach and could adjust her plan from last month that called for a phased reopening of the economy statewide, but she made no announcement about that Thursday.

One of the biggest challenges Mills faces is controlling the virus’ spread from visitors coming in from outside Maine, especially nearby states like Massachusetts, which have been hard hit. Mills’ plan for reopening the state’s economy in stages calls for a 14-day quarantine for out-of-staters planning to travel to Maine.


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