Amid soaring COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday she is not considering reimposing the “stay at home” order from this spring.

Other states this week have put in place some of their strictest measures to date in an effort to keep the virus from spreading further.

Mills said she is still considering other options, such as earlier closing times for some businesses and further limits on gathering sizes, but no decisions have been made. She also pointed out that some of the states that are imposing new restrictions didn’t do some of the things Maine did early on with mask orders and gathering limits and have paid a price.

Mills also said one reason another “stay at home” order is not on the table is because there’s no federal financial help right now.

“We could do the things we did back in the spring because we had help from the federal government,” the governor said during a news briefing with reporters. “That help is not there right now.”

Maine’s share of the federal CARES Act coronavirus relief fund this spring was $1.25 billion, and the state received another $2.3 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans for small business to help them weather the pandemic. But further COVID-19 relief discussions have been stalled in Congress for months.

Mills’ executive orders in Maine – the strictest requirements were in place in March and April – closed businesses and required people to stay at home except for essential workers and essential tasks, such as getting groceries.

Still, the numbers today are far worse than they were then, even with safety measures put in effect.

On Wednesday, state health officials reported 156 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. It was the second time in the last eight days that four deaths have been recorded in a single day. There have been 23 deaths so far in November. In the entire month of October, there were only six.

While no state has yet reimposed lockdowns from the spring, states are increasingly taking more steps to try to curb the pandemic, including setting curfews for businesses.

“Earlier business closings is something we are talking about, among many other things,” Mills said. “Gathering limits, capacity limits in businesses of all sorts is something we are always talking about.”

In Massachusetts, many businesses must close from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., including restaurants, movie theaters, casinos and gyms, while people are advised to stay at home during those hours unless they are working or to do essential tasks. Minnesota this week closed all restaurants to in-person dining.

Other states are imposing similar curfews, closing restaurants or limiting indoor gatherings. One reason to impose a curfew is to cut back on late-night parties when people are more likely to let their guard down and ignore mask wearing and distancing rules. New York City, meanwhile, announced that it is closing its schools and returning to all remote learning.

In early November, Mills expanded the state’s mask mandate to require masks be worn in all public places, and also indefinitely delayed the reopening of bars. Also this month, she removed Massachusetts from the list of states whose residents are exempt from a 14-day quarantine or negative test when they visit Maine.

Mills advised against traveling for Thanksgiving and to limit holiday celebrations to immediate family.

“Maine people need to ask themselves, ‘Do I have to take this trip?’ if the answer is honestly ‘No,’ don’t go,” she said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that cases spiked in Canada two weeks after that country’s traditional Thanksgiving celebrations on Oct. 12.

With vaccines potentially available for widespread use next year, Maine needs to “hunker down” for the winter months, Mills said.

“The winter surge we were warned about is not just coming, it’s here. Returning to normal requires us to survive the holidays this year,” she said.

For months, Maine’s daily case totals were among the lowest in the country, bottoming out at an average of 14 cases per day in early August and never going above an average high of 40 cases per day since late May.

In less than a month, however, conditions have changed dramatically.

Westbrook firefighter Reed Gilbert gathers information from Jacob Koris of Leeds at the Westbrook Public Safety building, where there is free drive-up COVID-19 testing, appointment required. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

On Oct. 24, health officials reported more than 50 cases in a day for the first time in almost two months. Five days later, cases reached triple digits for the first time. Since Nov. 2, the number of daily cases has been less than 100 only once. Wednesday marked the 13th time in the last 15 days that daily cases topped 150.

The seven-day average for daily cases is now 192, the highest to date. Some models predict Maine’s daily cases could reach 500 by the end of the month.

For as bad as Maine has trended, most states are doing worse. Virus prevalence in Maine is third-lowest in the country, behind only Vermont and Hawaii, at 13.9 cases per 100,000 population, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Twenty-four states have at least 50 cases per 100,000, while states like North Dakota and South Dakota have more than 160 cases per 100,000 population.

In all, there have been 9,519 confirmed or probable cases since the pandemic began, as well as 600 hospitalizations and 170 deaths.

As of Wednesday, there were 85  people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 30 in critical care and 10 on a ventilator. A month ago, just 11 people were in the hospital. Hospitals have begun preparing for an additional surge in patients and many have the ability to convert beds to critical care if needed.

There were 2,120 active cases Wednesday, a drop of 52 from a day earlier, which means there were more recoveries than new cases in the last 24 hours. However, it’s still more than three times the number from just one month ago (648), which means there are exponentially more infectious people throughout Maine as the holiday season approaches.

New cases were reported in 14 of 16 counties, led by Cumberland and York with 31 apiece, and Androscoggin and Penobscot counties with 17 each.

Deaths have now been reported in all but Piscataquis, Sagadahoc and Washington counties. Cumberland County has seen the highest number of deaths with 70, followed by York (27), Waldo (16) and Androscoggin and Kennebec with 14 each.

More than half (94) of the deaths have been individuals over the age of 80. Another 52 were people in their 70s. Fourteen people in their 60s have died, as well as 10 people under the age of 60.

Even without new restrictions from the state, some hospitals and industries are making their own changes.

Maine Medical Center in Portland announced Wednesday that it was reducing visitor hours to protect staff and patients.

Patients in critical care beds can have two visitors daily between the hours of 3-6 p.m. All others can have one visitor between 3-6 p.m. Visitors are not allowed to wait in the emergency department.

“We understand that support from families is an important piece of healing for our patients,” hospital President Jeff Sanders said in a statement. “Our goal is to balance that need for family connection with the importance of reducing density in the hospital to keep all of our patients and care team members safe.”

Androscoggin Bank this week closed all its branch lobbies until further notice in response to the rising cases numbers. Drive-up service is still available.

Maine DHHS also announced on Wednesday that nursing homes throughout Maine will receive $8 million in federal and state dollars to conduct frequent surveillance COVID-19 testing of residents and staff to help stop the spread of coronavirus when it does enter nursing homes.

Nursing homes have once again become problematic. At Durgin Pines in Kittery, a recent outbreak has led to more than 60 cases so far, as well as seven deaths.

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