Maine has begun processing thousands of positive COVID-19 cases from a massive backlog of tests, adding 10,968 cases to the official count Tuesday.

The cases were reported to the state as positive tests over the past several weeks but were not processed immediately because the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been overwhelmed during the omicron surge. The state has now streamlined the review process and is using an automated system to clear the backlog. The dramatic spike in confirmed cases does not reflect an actual rise in infections.

Real-time indicators all continue to point to a decline in infections and illnesses. Based on wastewater testing, hospitalizations and other metrics, pandemic trends have steadily improved during the past several weeks, both in Maine and nationwide.

The state’s backlog stood at more than 50,000 cases, and Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said that more details on where the backlog stands and how the agency will work through it will be provided during a Wednesday briefing by Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director.

The state also reported 21 additional deaths Tuesday, including 11 from a periodic review of death certificates going back to Dec. 14. The omicron variant surge overwhelmed the state’s ability to process cases – including weeding out duplicate positives.

But even though the agency decided to automate a few weeks ago, switching over to the new system is taking time because of technical hurdles, according to Maine health officials. The omicron wave and switching to the new system has skewed results, with artificially low numbers posted weeks ago, and a massive amount of cases reported Tuesday that does not represent the current state of the pandemic.


Steve Dugas of Yarmouth takes a COVID test at Yarmouth Public Works last month. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“In recent days, we launched a system to automate a portion of this (case count) process,” Long said in a statement Monday. “As a result, for several days starting with the update on February 15, the Maine CDC webpage will show a significant increase in the day-to-day tallies of total cases, confirmed cases, and probable cases.”

However, the new system is not fully automated, Long said. Some cases are still processed by CDC staff who investigate certain ones to determine if there are outbreaks.

“Case investigations (will) continue for outbreaks and individuals at higher risk. Part of the process is automated and part continues to involve human case investigators,” Long said in a statement Tuesday.

Long said the Maine CDC is notifying the U.S. CDC of the data discrepancy resulting from the backlog to avoid making it appear as if Maine has a much higher current case count than what is actually happening.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 198,665 cases of COVID-19, and 1,849 deaths.

Meanwhile, wastewater testing data released Monday from 13 treatment plants across Maine is showing substantial week-over-week declines in most of the reports, including from Portland, Bangor, Brunswick, Lewiston-Auburn and Augusta.

Hospitalizations declined again Tuesday to 260, dropping from 275 on Monday, a 40 percent decrease from the pandemic peak of 436 on Jan. 13. COVID-19 patients in the ICU decreased from 65 on Monday to 60 on Tuesday.

The positivity rate – the percent of all tests conducted that come back positive – also has declined, another good sign. The positivity rate stood at 8.6 percent Monday, compared to 14.4 percent two weeks ago and more than 20 percent at the peak of the omicron wave in mid-January.

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