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Thirteen more deaths, 702 new COVID-19 cases reported in Maine


The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 702 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 13 additional deaths, closing out the tumultuous year on an ominous note.

The now weeks-long surge in Maine shows little signs of easing, with the final day of 2020 bringing some of the highest new infection and death numbers of the now 10-month-long pandemic. State officials have also expressed concerns about worsening numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths coming out of the current holiday season.

The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases stood at 427 on Thursday, down from the average of 476 new infections for the week ending December 24. On November 1, by comparison, Maine’s seven-day rolling average was 78 new cases.

To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 24,201 total cases of COVID-19 as well as 347  deaths linked to the virus, with more than half of those deaths occurring within the past two months of the 10-month-long pandemic. The vast majority of deaths have also been among Maine residents over age 60, highlighting the significantly higher threat the virus poses to older residents.

New hospitalization figures were not yet available on Thursday. As of Wednesday, there were 177 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 and 48 people in intensive care, although the state continued to have nearly 100 ICU beds and hundreds of ventilators available.

State and federal official also fear another surge nationally in infections, hospitalizations and deaths tied to the current holiday season, similar to the record-setting spikes that occurred following Thanksgiving.

Hospitals, pharmacies and emergency medical systems are inoculating thousands of high-risk individuals daily in Maine as part of the first phase of a months-long vaccination campaign. New vaccination figures had yet to be posted for Thursday, but 23,527 individuals — or more than 1.5 percent of the state population — had received the first dose of the two-shot vaccination regimen as of Wednesday.

Maine’s current vaccination campaign is focused on hospital emergency department and COVID ward staff, first responders and other eligible medical personnel as well as residents and staff at nursing homes. Independent physicians and other health care workers who do not work for a hospital system are expected to be vaccinated in the coming weeks as well.

At least 179 of Maine’s 347 total deaths among those diagnosed with COVID-19 have occurred among residents of long-term care facilities, although the actual number is likely higher because there is often a days- or weeks-long lag before facilities officially report deaths to the Maine CDC.

Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said Wednesday that at least seven deaths had occurred within the past week in nursing homes in Aroostook County, which is experiencing a significant surge in the virus after maintaining low numbers for much of the pandemic.

The next phase of Maine’s vaccination plan, which could begin in late-January or early-February, is currently expected to target Mainers age 75 or older along with workers in higher-risk but “essential” frontline jobs, consistent with the most recent federal recommendations. Those include teachers, police officers, grocery store employees, postal workers, daycare staff and workers in food, agriculture or manufacturing jobs.

A handful of states are diverging from the federal recommendation and, instead, vaccinating a larger swath of older residents ahead of those “essential” workers who are not in health care fields because of the much higher hospitalization and death rates among those age 65 or older.

Shah said Wednesday that he was aware of those decisions in other states and that Maine health officials were still discussing the groups to be targeted during Phase 1B. But Shah also said that — unlike some of the large states not following the federal recommendations — he believes Maine could simultaneously vaccinate both individuals ages 75 or older and essential frontline workers.

“Right now, we are still razor-focused on (Phase) 1A and making sure health care providers of all stripes … can get vaccinated,” Shah said during Wednesday’s briefing on COVID-19. “But we know that is a decision, and we know other states have gone that route. I think there is more discussion to be had.”

Maine residents between the ages of 65 and 74, as well as younger individuals with underlying medical conditions, are currently slated for vaccination in Phase 1C, which is likely to begin in mid-winter to spring. Widespread vaccination of the rest of the state’s population is not projected to begin until summer given the anticipated supplies of vaccines available nationally.

This story will be updated.


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