In his Dec. 30 briefing, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah responded to numerous questions regarding the rollout of vaccinations in the state. In addition, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew announced $5.1 million in funding to health care organizations that serve MaineCare patients.

Lambrew said the Maine Health Care Financial Relief Program, announced in November, is modeled on the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development's Maine Economic Recovery Grant program. Health care organizations that were ineligible for funding through the DECD program, such as hospitals and nursing homes of any size and health care providers with over 250 employees, were eligible for these grants.

The program is backed by federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds and provides up to $100,000 in financial relief to an organization to address business disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, health care organizations must have served MaineCare members in 2020.

The bulk of the funding was awarded to Maine hospitals and nursing homes, with grants also received by providers of children’s behavioral health and home health and hospice care.

Shah began the briefing by acknowledging the 334 Mainers who have died from COVID-19 this year, and extending condolences their families.

He said there are 590 new cases of the illness since yesterday, and one death, a man in his 80s from York County. In addition, he noted that 305 people have been hospitalized with the disease in the last 30 days, and 107 are currently hospitalized, 48 of them in intensive care units.

Shah went on to announce that the CDC opened a new outbreak investigation Dec. 29 at the Kennebunk Center for Health and Rehabilitation, where 34 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with four staff members. The CDC is working closely with the facility, he said, to control the outbreak.

Turning to vaccinations, he said 23,527 doses of vaccine have been administered in the state, a number larger than the total number of virus cases the state has seen. He added that three more individuals have had allergic reactions to the shots, bringing the total number of reactions in the state to four. He said two people had had reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, and two to the one developed by Moderna; all of them recovered and are now "doing fine." Shah noted that people receiving the shots should be monitored for at least half an hour afterward to check for a reaction, and added that the monitoring system was working as it should.

He added that the federal CDC recommends that people who have a "serious" reaction to the first dose of vaccine not receive a second dose.

Shah responded to a question about when doctor's offices not affiliated with a hospital would receive the vaccine and whether they had been forgotten about, saying that they "categorically" had not been forgotten, and would receive the vaccine as laid out in the state plan.

Lambrew noted that these offices are included in the first phase of the vaccine roll out, and said her office was beginning to talk with independent providers about getting the vaccine to them.

Both Shah and Lambrew said Maine has not received as many doses of vaccine as it had expected to, although Shah also said he had been assured by federal authorities that second doses of the vaccine, which are scheduled to begin arriving next week, will be provided when needed.

If the second doses are a little late arriving, he said, they could probably be administered later than prescribed, as the second does is meant to boost the efficacy of the first dose and extend it.

He talked about the trade-offs involved in determining who should be vaccinated when, with younger frontline workers being exposed to more people and thus more likely to spread the disease, while older people might be less exposed but more likely to die if they do contract the virus. He said the current strategy aims to both curb the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the loss of life.

In closing, Shah looked back on the year just ending, calling 2020 "a year when the weight of the moment overwhelm(ed) everything else that's going on." He thanked state employees, emergency medical services personnel and other health care workers who have labored to keep their fellow Mainers safe.

And he thanked Maine residents who have sacrificed to control the spread of the virus and protect one another from disease. "When asked to change the way they go about their lives … Maine people responded. … The sacrifices will pay dividends; indeed, they already have."

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