“The surge here is. Take action now. For your sake, and for the sake of your family and community, wear a mask and stay apart. This is serious.” – Tweet on 10/30 from Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of Maine CDC

Three hundred and sixty-nine new COVID-19 infection cases have been reported in Maine since October 25, and October 30’s morning data reflect the sharpest single-day spike in new infections since the pandemic began. The Maine CDC has warned  that all counties in Maine are experiencing moderate to substantial community transmission, and that the virus has the potential to spiral out of control. The Department of Education reported 128 cases in Maine schools on October 29. Reports are in of sickness in all age groups, including individuals as young as eight months. Fifty-nine percent of Maine’s cases are in individuals younger than 60 years old.

Black or African American Mainers count for 17% of the state’s cases, but only 1.6% of the state’s population. Frequently cited reasons for the dramatic disparity along racial lines include racist policies that help keep Black and African American people from moving out of poverty and achieving middle class lives. Through economic necessity, during the pandemic, Black or African American Mainers – many of them immigrants – have been occupying front-line, in-person jobs that others will not fill; using public transportation to get to work; living in crowded housing, which makes social distancing either very difficult, or impossible. In Maine, white people make up 94.4% of the population, and are dying at a rate of 10 deaths per 100,000 people. Black or African American people account for 22 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.3 times the rate of white people.

Experts speculated at a briefing on October 28 that increased COVID-10 transmission may have been partially fueled by a shift in weather, with lower temperatures driving more people indoors. They urged Mainers to remain vigilant, and not give in to “COVID fatigue.” They warn against believing false rumors that are not based on science. Masks, social distancing, and hand washing remain the most important steps Mainers can take to protect themselves, their families, and the community, they said. The virus continues to be extremely dangerous, and masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Maine CDC asks Mainers to answer the phone if they see that Maine CDC contact tracers are calling. Contact tracing remains essential for controlling spread of the virus.

Governor Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control,  have both warned that Mainers need to avoid – or at least minimize – indoor gatherings with people outside the immediate household. They have expressed concern that people are letting down their guard, and gathering inside. Some community leaders report that the state’s move into Phase 4 of the re-entry plan has confused some people. They are urging their community members to watch the numbers, and recognize that COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly.

Dr. Shah said, “As folks are moving inside they seem to be letting their guard down.”

“COVID-19 is a silent enemy that thrives on the slightest hint of complacency,” said Governor Mills.

The U.S. CDC has updated its guidance regarding close contact. Someone who has been at a distance of six feet or less for 15 cumulative minutes or more over a 24-hour period is now considered a close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Dr.  Shah encourages people to consider the impact of short, repeated interactions, as well as long, sustained ones. Even while wearing a mask, someone is still considered a close contact after a cumulative total of 15 minutes spent with an infected person.

To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 229,000 people in the United States alone, and 1.18 million people worldwide. In Maine, 146 people have died from COVID-19. Some experts predict the current U.S. death toll of 225,000 will double between now and January, if precautionary protocols based on science continue to be ignored.

Governor Mills expressed grave concern on October 28 about the upward trend of cases in Maine. “The question is – can we control it? Well, the answer depends on every one of us.”