ELLSWORTH — As Maine recorded its highest number of positive COVID-19 cases in one day, an outbreak of three cases at KidsPeace, on Graham Lake, that was first announced Nov. 6 grew to four by Nov. 9, said spokesman Daniel Frye. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers three cases in one location or facility an outbreak and is conducting contact tracing.
The first three positive cases were among the school’s 28 residential students, according to a Nov. 6 press release issued by KidsPeace New England Executive Director Ken Olson and Rachel Bousquet, director of KidsPeace Maine Education and Residential Services.
In response, the students have been isolated and the 18 pre-K through 12th-grade day students have switched to remote learning through Nov. 30. The facility has not closed, and its Millinocket and Old Town locations as well as its community-based and foster care programs are unaffected.
In the Nov. 9 Maine CDC press briefing, Executive Director Dr. Nirav Shah named KidsPeace as a new outbreak site although the case numbers had not been updated from three to four. KidsPeace has not updated the public since its initial press release.
“We are still waiting for COVID testing results to come from staff and clients that were tested last week,” Frye said.
As cases rise across Maine, Shah shared the hard data. As happened last week and the week before, cases have spiked. On Nov. 9, Maine registered the highest number of positive cases since the pandemic began: 204. And in that two-week period Maine’s seven-day positivity rate rose from 0.66 percent to 2.14 percent.
“And thus, in one incubation period of COVID-19, the positivity rate in Maine has nearly tripled,” Shah said.
As of Nov. 9, two additional deaths, both in Somerset County, have brought the total to 152 deaths in Maine. Forty-nine people are hospitalized, with 14 in the intensive care unit and five on ventilators.
Shah said the rise can’t yet be traced to large gatherings, such as recent political rallies, although the Maine CDC has “seen some hints,” he said.
“The ground in Maine has been seeded with a lot of COVID cases,” he said, adding, “My fear is that these community transmissions will snowball.”
Downeast Transportation, which operates year-round bus service between Bar Harbor, Ellsworth, Bangor and several other Downeast communities, suspended all service on Nov. 9 until Nov. 16 because an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The decision to close was made out of “an abundance of caution,” Executive Director Paul Murphy said.
While Mainers may feel anxious and scared about the rise in cases and the possibility of a second lockdown, the state is in relatively good shape when compared with other states. The national positivity rate stands much higher at 7 percent than Maine’s 2.14 percent. The hospitalization rate is also lower for Maine, with 3.65 per 100,000 compared to the national rate of 15. And Maine’s testing rate of 573 per 100,000 residents is 48 percent higher than the national average of 387 tests.
However, Maine is seeing “racial and ethnic disparities” in positive case numbers that can become exaggerated during COVID-19 spikes, Shah said.
With news announced of a promising vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Shah said, “This is the sort of vaccine where you bring people to the vaccine rather than bringing the vaccine to people” and noted that it would likely be best suited for health care workers and first responders.
With the rise in positive cases, Shah also announced that the Maine CDC briefing schedule will increase to three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.