AUGUSTA — Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday, Sept. 8, that six more people have died across the state because of COVID-19, including one resident of Waldo County. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine CDC, said that since Saturday 732 new cases of the disease have been analyzed and confirmed across the state. Currently he said, 2,441 positive tests are awaiting review, prompting his agency to hire more staff.

“The number of new cases is driven by how many labs we’ve been able to get through,” he said, adding that he anticipates a sustained high number of cases for the next few days.

As of today, there are 187 people in the hospital, with 67 people in ICU beds and 32 on ventilators. In Maine right now, he said, there are a total of 42 intensive care beds staffed and available. He provided no demographics for those who have died.

The seven-day positivity rate is 5.4% up slightly from 5.2% Friday, Sept. 3. 

Regarding testing, Shah said 72% of the entire state population 12 and over has now at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Two out of three people in Maine, or 890,000, have now completed the series of shots.

Because of supply and demand issues, access to testing remains a challenge in the state and across the country, he said. Supplies are strained and demand has been rising in light of the Delta variant.

“You may have to wait longer than you like or travel farther…,” he said, “none of which is acceptable.” Shah said his agency has heard “loud and clear” across the state the need for expanded testing, and is working to increase access. Unfortunately, because of the supply chain, the issue may persist for a while.

When asked about COVID-19 in schools, he said much of what is being detected initially is from community transmission. “Our expectation is that in-person education remains,” he said. 

He said there were 10 open outbreaks in schools in Maine as of this morning, Mount View Complex in Thorndike being one of them. The lack of access to testing will make pool testing “a little harder for schools,” he said, but added his agency is prioritizing tests for schools.

When asked if there are any benchmarks to note that progress is being made in the fight against the pandemic, Shah said the key metrics are vaccination rates, hospital rates and testing volumes. 

Maine’s vaccination rate is currently similar to other states’, he said, but “not where it needs to be.” The hospitalization rate is not the highest recorded, but “in the ballpark,” and testing volumes show that while a large part of the state is vaccinated, people need more access to testing.

Speaking to people who have decided not to get vaccinated, Shah said, “Your decision affects other people.”

“Our hospitals are filling up with people who are not vaccinated. COVID units are filled with unvaccinated patients,” he said. Hospitals have started to postpone or delay elective procedures such as preventive screenings and hip replacements.

When asked if Gov. Mills is likely to declare a new state of emergency, and if there is a benchmark for such a decision, Shah said there is no defined, preset bar for this determination.

“Hospital capacity is a note that I’m concerned about,” he said, adding “… we still have sufficient capacity, even though it’s strained…”

Shah said his agency is not actively planning to move to tent hospitals because there still remains the issue of staff shortages across the state.

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