AUGUSTA — Seventy to 75% of recently reported COVID-19 cases are in people who are not fully vaccinated against the virus, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a “surge of the unvaccinated,” he noted.

In an Aug. 24 briefing, Shah said he could not think of a starker set of numbers to illustrate how important it is to get vaccinated. Maine has seen 360 new COVID-19 cases since Saturday, Aug. 21.

Over the last two to three weeks, 98% to 100% of new cases in the state are probably attributable to the delta variant, a more contagious strain of the coronavirus, Shah said. The positivity rate is currently 4.3%, up from 2.9% two weeks ago.

Testing volumes are up, and as a result, 1,700 positive tests remain to be reviewed by Maine CDC. In the coming days, he said, confirmed cases are likely to go up significantly.

As of today, there are 117 people hospitalized with COVID-19, whereas two weeks, or one incubation period, ago, there were 57 people in the hospital with the disease. Of the 117 currently hospitalized, 59 are in critical care beds. Statewide, Shah said, only 52 ICU beds are available out of a total of 329 existing beds.

Critical care beds are not specific for COVID-19 patients and can be used for any other emergency treatment, including car crashes and heart attacks.

When asked if he was concerned about the surge in hospitalizations, he said, “I am concerned.”

“The numbers are high and going up,” he said. “Hospitals are stretched, health care workers are similarly stretched and stressed with COVID.

“The  health care capacity is a concern,” he added.

The Maine CDC is currently investigating 21 open COVID-19 outbreaks across the state; nine are in health care facilities.  This, he said, is further evidence of why vaccinations for frontline workers is so important. 

As of Aug. 20, the number of cases associated with outbreaks the CDC is investigating in Waldo County included 15 at Calvary Chapel Belfast, in Searsmont, and nine at Penobscot McCrum in Belfast. During the briefing, Shah mentioned that there are now 17 cases associated with the outbreak at Waldo County General Hospital.

When asked about breakthrough cases, or those people who have contracted the disease after being fully vaccinated, Shah said the numbers parallel the vaccination rate.

“More vaccinated people leads to more breakthrough cases,” he said. If these people had not been vaccinated, he said, their clinical course would have been worse.

Speaking about what he called a “vocal minority” of health care workers who are pushing back on the governor’s requirement to get vaccinated, Shah said he disagreed with them. These health care workers already are required to be immunized against diseases such as measles, mumps and hepatitis. COVID-19 is no different, he said, if seen in this context. 

And now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and over, Shah hopes it will convince some health care workers who were on the fence about whether to get vaccinated. 

“Ultimately the choice is theirs,” he said. If they choose to work at a health care facility, they will need to be vaccinated in the same way as is currently done to prevent the spread of measles and mumps.

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