A woman walks up Congress Street in Portland with buildings on Casco Street reflected below her in a car mirror. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and no additional deaths.

Four more Mainers have recovered from the disease.

The continued low prevalence of the virus in Maine is allowing schools to reopen with at least a hybrid plan – students attending in person some days of the week and learning virtually on others. In many states, the school year is starting with online-only learning.

All counties in Maine are currently designated “green,” which means they can have students attend school in person five days a week. The state will update its county designations every two weeks, with checkpoints on Aug. 14 and Aug. 28.

The Maine CDC removed three cases from previous reports, most likely because probable cases turned out to be negative, so Friday’s net number of new cases was 17.

Meanwhile, Maine is still working to get all 22 of its “swab-and-send” locations running, and once they start up, testing capacity will further expand. The swab-and-send sites are designed to let Maine residents quickly get tested and have results within two days. So far, eight of the sites have opened, including most recently at the Westbrook Public Safety building. The other locations are in Fort Kent, Bar Harbor, Augusta, Brewer, Old Town, Belfast and Calais.

Dr. Nirav Shah, in a tweet Friday, said Maine’s positivity rate has reached a new low, an average of 0.8 percent daily over the previous seven days. Of 2,801 tests done Friday, 0.61 percent were positive.

Maine has the second-lowest positivity rate in the country after Vermont. In states with low positivity rates, health officials have better odds of halting transmission of the virus through testing, tracing close contacts and isolating those with COVID-19.

Tracing close contacts of infected people is a key part of the strategy, and Maine is one of only three states plus the District of Columbia that have enough staff – without using reserve staff – for contact tracing, according to National Public Radio and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Maine, with a population of 1.3 million, has 86 contact tracers, and only Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia have similar per capita staffing levels.

Shah said during a media briefing Thursday that some nearby states have recently seen upticks in COVID-19 cases, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. So while the prevalence of the virus is currently low in Maine, Shah said, there’s no guarantee it will stay that way.

“There are still large fires of COVID-19 burning across the country,” Shah said. “More recently, more fires are moving closer and closer to Maine.”

In other COVID-19 news, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, announced his support Friday for the Child Care is Essential Act, which would devote $50 billion to helping the child care industry weather the pandemic. Child care businesses are struggling financially in Maine and across the country as more people are working from home and parents are leery of sending children back to day care facilities even if they have reopened.

The House approved the bill on July 29, with Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Jared Golden, D-2nd District, voting  in favor. Pingree is a co-sponsor.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is backing a $15 billion Republican-backed Senate bill that, among other measures, would provide grants to child care providers.

The Mills administration recently required face coverings for children ages 5 and older who attend day cares and is recommending them for children ages 2-4.


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