The delta variant-fueled surge of new COVID-19 cases, primarily among unvaccinated individuals, is putting a strain on nearly every aspect of Maine’s health system, from testing capabilities to available critical care beds, the state’s top public health official said Wednesday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday reported 732 new cases of COVID-19 over the four-day period that included the holiday weekend. There were 52 new cases in Androscoggin County, 20 in Franklin County and 30 in Oxford County.

Community transmission of the virus in the tri-county region of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties was in the high range, meaning that masks are recommended in public, indoor spaces for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

Only three counties in Maine were not in the high transmission range: Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Washington were all in the substantial category, a level that still triggers the masking recommendation.

There were six additional deaths reported Wednesday, none of whom were from the tri-county region.

Since the first date that Maine people could be fully vaccinated, about 95% of new cases are among unvaccinated individuals, according to Maine CDC data on breakthrough cases.

In the week ending Sept. 3, 90.5% of the 2,548 new cases were among unvaccinated people. There has been a total of 2,059 breakthrough cases, or cases among fully vaccinated individuals, since the first date Mainers could be fully vaccinated.

And as cases continue to surge, the demand for testing is outpacing the available supply, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a media briefing, and for the third straight week, case investigators are sifting through a backlog of positive test results.

“We are now receiving 420-440 positive results every single day that are adding on to that stack that we have to review,” Shah said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Maine CDC had 2,441 positive lab results awaiting review, about 60 to 80% of which are likely to be new cases and not duplicate tests, Shah said.

He said the department has added additional staff to handle the increase in testing volume, “but what this means is that on any given day the number of new cases is driven as much as the number of new labs that we’ve been able to review as it is by the number of new cases.”

“As we make progress over the next several more days, we anticipate that there will be sustained high numbers of cases as we work our way through those 2,441 positive labs,” Shah said.

Hospitalizations, too, continue to rise. Statewide on Wednesday, 187 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19, 67 of whom were in critical care and 32 of whom were connected to a ventilator.

Executives from MaineHealth, which operates Maine Medical Center in Portland, the state’s largest hospital, as well as Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, said earlier this week that its hospitals are postponing elective procedures in order to handle the increase in COVID hospitalizations.

In response, Shah said, “What that says about the pandemic is that we are entering, or are in, (is) a deeply concerning phase right now. The delta variant in particular is giving us all a run for our money and in particular because it causes so many more cases, it’s leading to more hospitalizations.”

Elective care includes preventative procedures such as colonoscopies or other routine health screenings that are key to detecting cancer, among other diseases.

That’s putting “an immense amount of strain on hospitals as a system but in particular health care workers,” Shah said, who now “have to contend with both patients whose care has been delayed as well as COVID patients all at the same time.”

As of Sept. 3, 859 out of the 960 total hospitalizations since the first date that Maine people could be fully vaccinated were among unvaccinated people, or nearly 90%.

From Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, there were 43 new hospitalizations, 31 of which – about 72% – were unvaccinated individuals. Shah said  unvaccinated individuals continue to account for about 70 to 75% of weekly hospitalizations.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston continues to avoid a surge in hospitalizations and there were only two confirmed COVID-19 inpatients there as of Wednesday.

Central Maine Medical Center has seen an increase over the past couple of weeks and as of Tuesday, providers there were caring for an average of 10 patients per day during the week prior.

As of the same day, there was a total of 10 COVID inpatients at CMMC, including six in the ICU. One person was on a ventilator.

Statewide, 42 critical care beds out of a total of 328 in the state, or 13%, were available midweek.

“I hear a lot and see a lot, folks saying … ‘It’s my choice and it doesn’t impact your life at all,’” Shah said. “But what we’re seeing now is that that’s not true. Our hospitals are filled with individuals who are being treated for COVID who are not vaccinated.”

This pressure on health care systems is a reminder that an individual’s choice to not get vaccinated could have devastating consequences for others, Shah said.

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