BELFAST — Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday, Aug. 24, that he expects COVID-19 cases to increase substantially in the next few days as labs process a spike of 1,700 new positive test results across the state.

Most positive cases, he said, are from younger people who are unvaccinated and living in rural parts of the state. Almost all new cases, he added, can be attributed to the more contagious delta variant. 

Another point of concern is the declining number of critical care beds throughout the state. As of Monday, only 52 ICU beds remained available out of a total of 329 existing beds.

The level of transmission in Waldo County as determined by the U.S. CDC continues to be “high” as of Aug. 26. Waldo was the first county in Maine to reach this classification. Overall across the county, 67.2% of the total population is fully vaccinated. As of Aug. 31, the county had 380 cases per 10,000 people, which is less than the overall state average of 558 cases per 10,000.

Now, besides Waldo County, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Somerset, Franklin, York, Oxford, Kennebec, Hancock, and Knox counties are also classified as areas of high transmission. Cumberland, Androscoggin, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc counties are areas of “substantial” transmission while Washington County is considered “moderate.”

Regarding outbreaks in Waldo County, Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said Aug. 31 investigations at Calvary Chapel Belfast church in Searsmont and Penobscot McCrum in Belfast remain open with the same case counts of 16 and nine cases, respectively. 

Addressing the outbreak at Waldo County General Hospital, Long said, the investigation also remains open, with an additional two cases, now 23 in all. As of Aug. 26, eight patients and 13 staff had been identified with the virus at the hospital. Spokesman Robert Long of Maine CDC did not have additional information on the two additional cases at WCGH as of Tuesday morning, Aug. 31. 

Jenifer Harris, director of communications at WCGH, told The Republican Journal Aug. 24 in an email exchange that over the previous few days, several COVID-positive patients and employees at the hospital had been identified. “The vast majority of those patients and employees impacted were unvaccinated,” she noted.

Due to the increased community spread of COVID-19 in Waldo County, and in collaboration with the Maine CDC, Harris said, the hospital is taking additional steps to protect patients, providers and the community.

Patients at the hospital will not be permitted visitors at this time. Pediatric and end-of-life patient visitor requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The hospital will also continue to follow CDC guidelines related to masking, eye covering and personal protective equipment for employees.

Harris said, “We have undertaken employee and patient testing to determine the depth of the COVID impact on our campus.

“We continue to be concerned about the increased community spread in Waldo County. Our vision of ‘Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America’ means that we are committed to doing everything possible to safeguard our care team, patients and the communities we serve.” 

Besides WCGH, Penobscot McCrum and Calvary Chapel Belfast, Long said, there are no other outbreak investigations in Waldo County now.

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