ELLSWORTH — State officials backed away from some scheduled reopening plans this week as they watched coronavirus cases rise in a number of states.
Governor Janet Mills announced Monday that the state is postponing the reopening of indoor service at bars, which had been scheduled to start July 1, because of concerns about the higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in such settings.
“Indoor bar service typically features crowds, often in close contact with one another, often without tables or other ways of keeping people apart,” said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Smaller spaces in many bars makes physically distancing very difficult. Further, individuals may be less likely to wear cloth face coverings in bars.”
Bars and brewery tasting rooms can continue to serve drinks outdoors, and restaurants that include bars can continue to seat patrons at indoor tables as part of earlier phases of Maine’s economic reopening plan.
The number of confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Hancock County stood at 15 this week, with 11 residents listed as having recovered, one having been hospitalized and one having passed away, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The county had the third-lowest total number of confirmed cases in the state as of Tuesday, behind Washington and Pisacatquis, which each had two confirmed cases. Cumberland County’s case count remained the highest, at 1,542.
Maine had recorded 2,971 confirmed and probable cases as of Tuesday, 406 of which were active. A total of 2,409 residents are listed as having recovered from the virus, while 102 residents have died.
The state has not been updating its website with the number of nonresidents who have tested positive while in Maine, but CDC spokesman Robert Long said in an email on Tuesday that from the time the pandemic began through June 19, the state had transferred 81 “investigations” to other states.
When individuals test positive in a state other than which they live, the confirmed cases are counted or “transferred” to their home states.
“The majority are transferred within New England (23 to New Hampshire, 19 to Massachusetts),” said Long, noting that Maine had received 48 cases transferred from other states, mostly New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Statewide, the number of new cases and hospitalizations has continued to trend downward since late May, but many residents have expressed concern that the number of cases will tick upward as the state begins reopening and visitors arrive in greater numbers.
Coronavirus cases have surged nationwide in recent days as people have started to mingle and return to work after weeks of lockdowns. The number of new infections has been rising across the South, West and Midwest. The nationwide total of new daily infections was 30,000 on Friday, the highest since May 1.
At a briefing to Congress on Tuesday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, told lawmakers that there has been a “disturbing surge of infections” as states have reopened and that the next few weeks “will be critical” to slowing surges.
Fauci said that he is “cautiously optimistic” a vaccine could be ready by late 2020 or early 2021. There is a vaccine scheduled for Phase 3 efficacy trials in July, said Fauci. He warned that “Emergency use authorization is important, but it has to be done in a situation where you fulfill the criteria … I would be very disappointed if we jumped to a conclusion before we knew that a vaccine was truly safe and truly effective.”