The COVID-19 daily case count continued an upward trend with 241 people contracting the disease since yesterday, up from 186 people on Tuesday.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, March 18, the concerning trend can also be seen in the increasing seven-day PCR positivity rate of 1.72%, up from 1.55% on March 16.

Two additional deaths were reported in the state, Shah said, both men in their 80s, one from Piscataquis County, and the other from Hancock County. These two deaths mark the 726th and 727th deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

In the past 30 days, 102 people have been hospitalized and currently 76 people are in the hospital with COVID-19, 23 in intensive care units and six on ventilators.

When asked about the current trend of increasing case counts among younger people and increases in positivity rates, Shah said it could be a sign that fatigue is setting in. Transmission could be occurring with younger people gathering in groups.

Another hypothesis, Shah said, is it could be an epidemiological phenomenon where up until this point, the focus has been vaccinating the older population and now approximately one in three people 60 and over have received their completed doses. The virus is still circulating and on a proportionate basis, more younger people are contracting the disease because more older people have been vaccinated.

“It’s too early to tell where we are going,” he said. “We’re hopeful it won’t be a spike.”

Shah encouraged people that if fatigue is setting in, and “you’re ready to chuck the mask in the trash, now is not the time to do that.”

When asked if the uptick in cases was related to the spread of variants in the state, Shah said, “I don’t think epidemiologist have a good handle on that question yet. There’s still more research to be done.”

So far in Maine, only seven B117 (UK) variants and one B1351 (South African) variant have been identified.

Currently 545,102 vaccine doses have been administered in the state, Shah said, which encompasses approximately 341,000 first doses and 203,000 second or final doses. That translates to one in four people in Maine have had at least one dose, and about 15% of the population have completed their entire vaccination series.

The state will not see a dramatic increase in the supply of doses for next week, according to Shah, with 35,190 being allocated for the state. This represents an additional 1,170 doses from last week’s total. There is a potential for an increase in supply by the end of March or early April.

“We have been getting ready to scale up once the vaccines arrive,” he said. “When your turn becomes available to get the vaccine, I encourage everyone to do so.”

When asked if quarantine was necessary if exposed to the virus after being fully vaccinated, Shah said no. “This is a tangible benefit of being vaccinated,” he said. If you are returning to Maine from anywhere but the New England states, you will have to test or quarantine unless you are fully vaccinated.

Shah went on to explain being fully vaccinated meant not just receiving a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, but receiving both doses with at least 14 days following the second dose of one of the vaccines. This is because it takes at least 14 days for “your body to fortify your immune system,” he said. “Fourteen days is critical to be fully vaccinated.”

If exposed after the first dose, Shah recommends still quarantining 10 days and holding off on the second dose until quarantine period is complete.

On a positive note, he said, deaths have come down in Maine relatively to where the state was in December and January. The composition is also interesting, he said, with only one death occurring in a long-term care facility in the past 30 days.

“That is still one person too many,” he said.