Mainers were urged to stay on their "COVID-19 diet" Thursday, Aug. 6, by Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine Center for Disease Control, in his twice-weekly briefing.

Maine has reduced its number of cases of the contagious disease that has been rampaging around the country and the world for months because residents have taken to heart public health urgings to wear face coverings in public and stay physically distant from one another, he said. Likening the precautions to being on a diet, Shah acknowledged that "diets aren't fun," but said, "the outcome is worth the effort," and encouraged viewers to continue the health practices that have stood the state in good stead so far.

He reported that there has been a total of 3,997 cases of COVID-19 in the state to date, an increase of five cases since Wednesday, and the second day in a row where the state has reported just five new cases. Of those, 3,581 cases have been confirmed, and 416 are probable. A total of 3,475 people have recovered from the illness, an increase of 19.

Shah said Maine's hospitalization rate is less than one per 100,000 population, compared to a national rate of 17 per 100,000. The one-day positivity rate is 0.78%, he said, and the seven-day weighted average positivity rate is 0.94%, versus a national seven-day rate of 8%. He noted that the elderly Mainers and others who are at elevated risk from the coronavirus have been "extra, extra careful to avoid large gatherings" and other situations that could put them at risk, which has helped keep the state's hospitalization rate down, even as there have continued to be new cases.

The director spent considerable time discussing the recent increases in the number of cases in other northeastern states. He said two weeks ago, Massachusetts was reporting a seven-day rolling average of 295 cases per day, and as of yesterday, that number was 423 cases per day, a rise of 43%; Rhode Island's seven-day average was 62 per day two weeks ago, and is now at 97, a jump of 56%; and New Jersey had a seven-day average of 227 cases daily two weeks ago, and is at 386 now, a spike of 70%.

"There are still large fires of COVID-19 burning across the country, and some are moving closer to Maine," he said, adding that states which now enjoy exemptions from Maine's requirement of a 14-day quarantine or a negative test result could lose that status if the prevalence of COVID-19 there becomes higher than it is here.

There were several questions from reporters about the reopening of schools in the state. Shah said the CDC has been working with the Maine Principals Association on a plan with regard to school sports, but MPA has made no final decision yet. He acknowledged that "contact sports do bring risks with them," but also offer benefits.

When asked what would happen once school starts if a student has symptoms 0f COVID-19 at school, he said the child should be tested by their family doctor for the coronavirus and other conditions that have similar symptoms. The Department of Education would contact the CDC liaison for schools to initiate contact tracing, which could result in some of the child's classmates being quarantined for 14 days.

In addition, if the child tests positive for COVID-19, their close contacts, including teachers, guidance counselors and other school staff, should also be tested.

In response to a question about whether a COVID-19 vaccine would be safe, given the unusual speed at which potential vaccines are being developed, Shah said he was concerned about the possibility that the public will think that the process of development and approval was rushed. He tries to stay abreast of what is happening with vaccine development, he said, so as to be able to let people know about the safety of any product that may be released. He noted that it is everyone's interest to make sure that any vaccine approved for distribution to the public is safe.

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