Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday, Jan. 26, the U.S. death count related to COVID-19 has now surpassed the 405,399 total of service members who died in World War II. According to the U.S. CDC, 422,500 people across the country have now died because of the virus.

In April 2020, Shah said, the country surpassed the 58,000 people who died in the Vietnam War, encompassing two decades of combat. In 1968 the death toll in the Vietnam War reached 16,899 service members. “We are repeating the total Vietnam deaths in 1968,” he said, “every five to six days.”

In Maine, the CDC reported an additional 662 COVID-19 cases since yesterday, along with 11 additional deaths. Among the people who died, one was a resident of Aroostook County, five were from Cumberland County, two were from Hancock County, two from Kennebec County, and one was from Penobscot County. Six of the people who died were women, while five were men. One person was in their 70s, and the rest were in their 80s.

Currently there are 194 people hospitalized with the disease, up from 182 last Thursday; including 59 in intensive care units and 25 on ventilators.

Shah said the current seven-day positivity rate of 3.64% is on the decline from 4.1% last Thursday, and is a result of increased testing volume. Shah said testing is close to the highest level ever recorded in Maine.

Regarding recent outbreaks, Shah said the Maine Veterans Home in South Paris reported 19 cases; Cyr bus line in Bangor has eight cases; Lisbon Public Works has six cases; Oxford Casino has five cases; Oxford Street Shelter in Portland has eight cases; and the Cianbro Construction site at the VA in Augusta has 11 cases.

The vaccination effort in the state has now administered 115,213 "shots in arms," he said. This includes 89,654 first doses and 25,559 second doses.

Shah said this week Maine received 18,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. "What we are getting is a fraction of what we actually need," he noted.

"Please bear with us," Shah said, "We are working as hard as we can."

For people who do not use a computer, Shah said, phone lines are currently being set up. The reason it is still in the works, he added, is that his agency wants to "get it right, instead of getting it fast."

For people 70 and older, touching base with one of the local hospitals on the Maine CDC vaccination site (maine.gov/covid19/vaccines/vaccination-sites) is a good way to find out how to preregister. For people associated with MaineHealth hospitals or clinics, the main telephone is 877-780-7545.

Maine CDC has found that people are calling to numerous hospitals across the state registering to receive the vaccine. Shah said he understands the frustration, but suggested not to register on multiple lists, which can throw off numbers associated with vaccine allocations for hospitals. Also, where you get your first dose is where you can expect to get your second, he said.

A concerning phone scam has been discovered where calls coming from the 844 area code purport to be contact tracers, or people confirming vaccination appointments. In the course of the call, he said, the caller asks for a social security number.

Contact tracers will never ask for your social security number, he said. If unsure, or if you "get a bad vibe," ask for their name, number where you can call them back, and what hospital or clinic they are calling from, then cross-reference the information on the Maine CDC site.

"Don't feel shy about asking for an ID number or a phone number," he said.

The issue has been reported to the Maine Attorney General's Office. If anyone believes a call is a scam, they should call the Maine CDC main desk at 287-8016 and ask to be put through to contact tracing. There, officials can help verify if the call is legitimate.

This is "about as bad and dastardly as it gets," Shah said. Calling older folks who are anxiously and eagerly waiting for a call.

"There is a special place in hell," Shah said, for people like this.

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