Maine health officials reported 980 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths over a three-day period as the pandemic’s fall surge – fueled by unvaccinated people falling ill – appears likely to continue into winter.

Tuesday’s data represents case counts from Saturday, Sunday and Monday because the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not process cases over the weekend. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 124,098 cases of COVID-19, and 1,348 deaths.

Hospitalizations broke another record Tuesday, with 367 hospitalized, including 110 in intensive care, and 59 patients on ventilators.

The high case numbers and rising hospitalizations coincide with predictions of a post-Thanksgiving spike.

 

“Holidays are like a thousand mini super-spreader events and unfortunately I think we are starting to see the impact of Thanksgiving on top of this pandemic we have been seeing, especially across rural Maine,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at Maine Medical Center’s parent entity, MaineHealth, and a former director of the Maine CDC. Mills noted that only 2 percent of Maine Med’s COVID inpatients during November were from Portland. “If you look at the lists of where COVID inpatients are from it reads like a list of rural Maine towns.”

Maine’s seven-day average of daily new cases was 641.9 Tuesday, up from 404 a week ago and 500.9 a month ago.

County case numbers varied widely. Aroostook County led the state with 721.8 total cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period. Aroostook County’s vaccination rate ranks eighth among the 16 counties, at 63.5 percent.

Cumberland County, with the state’s highest vaccination rate at 78.8 percent, had the second-lowest seven-day case rate at 196.3 per 100,000. Knox County has the third-highest vaccination rate at 74.5 percent, and the lowest case count over the past week, at 173.5 per 100,000.

Overall, Maine has the nation’s 24th-highest infection rate, with a daily average of 46.5 cases per 100,000 population, compared to the national average of 36 per 100,000, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The state’s positive-test rate, which had been climbing since Oct. 28, declined from 11.74 percent on Dec. 3 – the last day positivity data was available – to 11 percent Tuesday. The positivity rate, a measure of what percentage of COVID-19 tests are returned positive, was 5.3 percent on Oct. 28. A lower positivity rate means that the public health system has a better chance of controlling cases and outbreaks through isolation and quarantine measures. It’s also another metric on pandemic conditions, in addition to cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said it’s too early to tell whether the slight decline in the positivity rate Tuesday is a sign the pandemic is easing in Maine.

“We are all hoping it signals a downward trend,” Long said.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that a new variant, omicron, may be more contagious than the delta variant, which is currently the most widespread in the United States. But it’s unknown whether omicron causes more- or less-severe cases, on average, than delta. So far, no omicron cases have been detected in Maine, but it has been detected in at least 19 states.

Early indications are that omicron might cause milder cases than the delta variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical officer, said in a media briefing Tuesday.

“It might be, and I underscore might be, less severe as shown by the ratio of hospitalizations per number of new cases,” Fauci said.

On the vaccination front, 927,047 Maine people have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or 68.9 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million population.

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