Jon and Emily Tremain of Richmond wait in their Kabayan food truck on Friday for the official start of the first Bath Heritage Days and Music Festival in several years. Jon Tremain called the economy more worrisome than the disease. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

BATH – David Vaughn of Plymouth spent Friday afternoon arranging plush unicorns and stuffed panda bears on the awning of his truck on Commercial Street. In just a few hours, the first visitors to the annual Heritage Days would be lined up to try their luck at his games for a prize.

And despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vaughn wasn’t worried about coming face-to-face with the holiday crowd.

“It’s safer outdoors than it is indoors,” Vaughn said. “I just can’t wait until it’s over.”

Maine is not seeing a big dip in infections and hospitalizations this summer similar to the past two years, as case numbers hold steady here and rise in much of the world. But this weekend promises to be busy as Fourth of July events are mostly back to normal. Heritage Days was canceled in 2020 and 2021, but vendors who were setting up Friday afternoon for the four-day festival were hoping for crowds.

Public health experts recommended Mainers take certain precautions to stay healthy while also celebrating the holiday.

“People should be able to enjoy the Fourth of July weekend and have a great time with their loved ones, but just take some simple steps to make it safe,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth.


Maine reported a slight rise Friday in the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19. But the state remains in a holding pattern, as both hospitalizations and case counts have fluctuated only slightly for about two weeks at levels that remain far higher than they were at this point in the past two summers.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported Thursday that cases were on the rise in 110 countries around the world, including in the United States, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. Both of the highly contagious variants are now circulating in Maine, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 115 patients were hospitalized with the virus in Maine as of Friday morning, including 19 in critical care and three on ventilators, according to the Maine CDC. The overall number is up from 113 on Thursday.

David Vaughn of Plymouth hangs stuffed animals from an awning in preparation for the start of Bath Heritage Days and Music Festival on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The CDC added three COVID-related deaths to the state’s pandemic total Friday, a reminder that the latest variants of the virus can still be dangerous even though most infections now are mild compared to earlier versions of the disease. Health officials continue to advise people to be vaccinated and get booster shots, especially those who are are older or have underlying medical conditions that could make them vulnerable to severe symptoms.

Maine also reported 197 new cases of the disease Friday, bringing the seven-day average of new cases to 213 per day. The official counts do not include cases detected with at-home tests.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 270,123 cases and 2,418 deaths.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified all Maine counties as having low community levels, which means there are no official indoor masking recommendations anywhere in Maine, except for inside transportation centers and medical facilities. The classification system is based on each county’s case counts, hospital patient loads and hospital capacity.

But a low community level does not mean the virus is not actively circulating or that there is no risk of contracting COVID. Many people continue to wear masks in public indoor spaces based on the current levels of infections and some businesses may continue to encourage mask wearing.

Even as holiday celebrations are returning closer to normal, Maine’s case counts and patient counts remain far higher than they were at the beginning of July in 2020 and 2021, when the state enjoyed summer breaks from the pandemic. At this point in 2020 and in 2021, Maine had about 30 hospitalized patients and an average of fewer than 40 new cases per day.

Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine CDC, said people should stay home if they feel sick and gather outdoors to reduce the risk of transmission.

“With people interacting more freely and often than was the case in 2020 and 2021, the more transmissible subvariants are likely one reason for the higher case counts,” Long wrote in an email. “Maine’s high vaccination rate plays a key role in the comparably low rates of critical care and ventilator use with COVID.”

Mills said as many as half of the patients who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are “coincidentally positive.” That means they were admitted for other reasons and might not even be experiencing symptoms, but a routine COVID-19 test identified them as having the virus. She said the patients who are actually hospitalized because of their COVID-19 symptoms are generally elderly people who are still vulnerable to the virus even when immunized, and younger people who are not vaccinated.


“We’re all more exposed now,” Mills said. “We’re out and about a lot.”

Mills said there are four strategies to consider for upcoming gatherings – vaccination, ventilation, masking and testing – and she described how she would put them to use during her own holiday weekend.

“I really don’t want to get COVID,” she said, especially because of the potential long-term effects of the virus. “I’m not isolating in a cave, but I’m also not walking into an indoor crowd without a mask on.”

Delaney Crews rings up a customer at Mockingbird Bookshop, where mask usage is optional. The book store is bracing for a busy weekend during the first Bath Heritage Days and Music Festival in several years, due to the pandemic. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

She said she is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots, which will reduce the risk of severe illness or hospitalization if she does contract COVID-19. She will gather this weekend at camp with friends and family who also are vaccinated. They’ll spend most of their time outdoors, where transmission is greatly reduced. She has at-home tests ready so her guests can test themselves during the weekend and quickly identify any positive cases. If they go indoors where the space is crowded with people whose vaccination status isn’t clear, Mills said she’ll wear a high-quality mask mask like an N95.

“In recent weeks, I’ve got into the grocery store without a mask and with a mask,” she said. “It’s very uncrowded, I don’t always put it on. I went into the grocery store earlier today. I drove up and the parking lot was almost full. I made sure to put my mask on.”

People who are at greater risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19 can “turn the dial up” on those four strategies, she said. For example, an elderly person should be even more cautious about wearing a well-fitted mask while indoors.


“But the good news is for the most part, people should not have to isolate themselves,” Mills said.

That’s definitely good news for Jon and Emily Tremain of Richmond. Their pink food truck was parked on Commercial Street in Bath and ready for customers Friday afternoon. Kabayan Philippine Food has been in business for 19 years, but they’ve only been to the festival as customers before. Jon Tremain said this summer has been slower than last so far, but he didn’t attribute that trend to concerns about the virus.

“I think it’s the economy,” he said. “It’s not a lot of extra money in people’s pockets right now.”

Austin Weinhold, of Louden, New Hampshire, prepares Carolyn’s Creamee ice cream stand for the start of Bath Heritage Days and Music Festival on Friday. Weinhold called fears of the pandemic overblown. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Just down the street, Austin Weinhold of Loudon, New Hampshire, was hanging a sign that said “SLUSH” on the awning for Carolyn’s Creamees. He said he hasn’t been too worried about the virus during the pandemic and is glad he doesn’t have to wear a mask anymore during hot summer events. He hasn’t seen masks on many customers so far this year, either. Their last event was a street festival in Concord, New Hampshire

“Throughout the entire event, I saw like two or three people wearing a mask,” Weinhold said.

On nearby Front Street, businesses advertised their policies on masks with signs in their doorways. At Mockingbird Bookshop, they were welcome but optional. Employee Delaney Crews wore one as she worked the register, while co-worker Shannon Lavallee did not. They estimated that 70 percent of customers do not wear masks in the store, but 30 percent still do.

“You have customers who are being very cautious because they’re going on a trip, and you have some who are so over it,” Lavallee said. “It’s a different story with different people.”

“I think everybody’s doing what they can to keep themselves safe,” Crews added.

The shop is just a short walk from the vendors on Commercial Street, and the parade will pass right by their window on Monday. “Get ready,” one customer called as she left the shop with her purchase. “It’s going to be a good weekend!”

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