AUGUSTA — While the deadline for health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine remains Oct. 1, the state will not begin enforcing the governor’s directive until Oct. 29, Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services said at a Sept. 2 press briefing.

In the briefing, Lambrew said the additional time will allow providers to complete the protocol with the goal of having every health care worker vaccinated. Additional state and federal funding will also be made available to the health care industry to attract new workers and improve recruitment with incentives for the vaccination effort.

Speaking about how the state plans to enforce the vaccination requirement, Lambrew said her agency works with facilities to bring them into compliance, but added, “At the end of the day, it is about the health and safety of staff and patients,” and facilities could risk losing their licenses.

“Since putting forward the rule,” she said, “we have seen increases in staff vaccinations.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said there are now 33 outbreaks under investigation across the state, 19 of which involve health care facilities or group homes. This underscores the need for health care workers to get vaccinated, he said.

As of Sept. 2, he said, Maine has only 45 available intensive care beds, out of a total of 328. Currently 160 people are hospitalized with the virus, 67 are in ICUs, and 26 are on ventilators.

Since Sept. 1, Shah said, there have been an additional 624 COVID-19 cases identified across the state. That number represents a high point for cases in a single day not seen since the peak of the pandemic in January.

Currently, Shah said, his agency has 1,800 positive lab results waiting for review; he added that the number of positive reported cases will go up “as we plow through these… .”

Three additional deaths were reported Sept. 2 — two women and one man. One person was from Cumberland County, one from Penobscot County and one from Somerset County. Deaths from COVID-19 in the state now total 937.

Speaking about the vaccination effort, Shah said 81.3% of eligible Mainers 12 years or older have had at least one vaccination and three out of four people across the state are now fully vaccinated.

“The vaccines are low-risk,” Shah said. “Across the state, hospitals are filling up with people with COVID-19, not with people with adverse effects from the vaccine.”

Shah said Mills’ vaccination requirement for health care workers is working and that staffs across the state have seen increases in vaccination rates. “The last mile will be the most challenging,” he said. “We think it’s working and think it’s definitely the right thing to do.”

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