State health officials reported 305 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Friday, one day after the Mills administration announced plans to relax restrictions on gatherings and physical distancing.
The number of new cases of the viral disease continues to trend downward in Maine and across much of the country as the vaccination rate slowly but steadily climbs. In response, federal health officials released new guidance on Thursday saying that fully vaccinated individuals could forgo wearing masks indoors when in public — but the administration of Gov. Janet Mills was still reviewing the recommendations and is still requiring masks in some settings.
With Friday’s 305 new cases, Maine’s seven-day average of daily cases stood at 270, compared to 328 one week earlier and a springtime peak of more than 470 cases reported daily roughly one month ago. Much of the spring surge in cases has occurred among unvaccinated people under age 40.
There have been 799 deaths linked to COVID-19 since the coronavirus was first detected in Maine in March 2020. To date, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked a total of 65,348 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the state. New hospitalization figures had yet to be posted on Friday but, as of Thursday morning, there were 118 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19.
Maine and other New England states continue to have the highest vaccination rates in the country, although the pace of inoculations has slowed considerably in recent weeks.
Just shy of 50 percent of Maine’s population of 1.3 million residents had received at least one shot of vaccine as of Thursday evening and 46.2 percent had received final doses of vaccine. Those figures climb to 56.1 percent and 52.5 percent, respectively, when calculated only among the residents age 12 or older who are currently eligible for vaccination.
Maine continues to lead the nation in full vaccination rates followed by Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, according to tracking by Bloomberg. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, show that Maine had the sixth-highest percentage, at 70.4 percent, of the 18-and-older population that had received at least one shot, with Vermont leading the country at 76 percent.
Vaccine databases use different methods of calculating rates, so state rankings can vary. In general, however, New England states are ranked among the tops in the nation.
Gov. Janet Mills cited Maine surpassing 70 percent for adult vaccinations on Thursday when announcing that the state would take additional steps later this month to relax COVID-19 restrictions. President Joe Biden had set a July 4 goal of getting at least one COVID-19 vaccine does into the arms of 70 percent of American adults, and Mills said Maine was “reaching this goal 53 days early.”
Mills announced that, beginning on May 24, there will no longer be any capacity limits or physical distancing requirements outdoors or in most indoor settings. The major exceptions for indoor spaces were restaurants, bars, dining halls or other settings where people must remove masks in order to eat or drink. Those settings will still have to maintain a six-foot distancing requirement between patrons or groups.
“These changes are aligned with the latest science and they make sense for Maine at this stage, I think, given the percentage of our population that has been vaccinated,” Mills said Thursday. “I want to be clear: We are still living through a pandemic and these changes don’t come without some risk, especially for those who remain unvaccinated.”
Neither Mills nor Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah were prepared to announce on Thursday how the state would respond to the latest federal guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could stop wearing masks in both outdoors and in most indoor settings. The federal announcement came out at the same time that Shah and Mills were hold a press conference to discuss changes to Maine’s reopening plan.
This story will be updated.