AUGUSTA — Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday, Dec. 1, while the newly identified omicron variant is concerning, more scientific data is needed to fully understand the scope of the situation.

The latest strain of the coronavirus was designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization because early evidence shows it is highly transmissible. The variant has been detected in California and as nearby as Quebec.

“It’s just a matter of time before it arrives in Maine,” he said.

Because of what Shah called the variant’s “constellation of mutations,” it is not known just how effective available vaccines will be. Shah did say however, the body’s immune system can adapt even if it has not seen this type of virus before. How much the body will adapt is the question, he said.

Even though evidence suggests patients with the omicron varient generally have mild symptoms, Shah said, unless you track the age and health history of each patient, the data is not conclusive. It is unlikely, he said, that omicron will “put us back to square one” with widespread transmission.

To combat the threat of the new mutation, Shah recommended those who have not yet gotten the vaccine do so along with booster shots. “This is a great time to be wearing a mask,” he said. “Especially indoors.”

Maine CDC reported three additional COVID-19 related deaths, all of them men. Two were in their 60s and one in his 40s. One was from Penobscot County and two were from York County. The total deaths associated with COVID-19 in Maine is now 1,327 people.

Since yesterday, 938 new cases have been reported. Currently 334 people are in the hospital with the virus — something Shah said was a “sad new record.” By comparison, two weeks ago 280 people were hospitalized with the disease.

Across the state 99 people are in intensive care units, while two weeks ago there were 77; and 49 people are now on ventilators, another new high. Six children are reported in the hospital with COVID-19, with two in pediatric intensive care units.

Shah said throughout Maine, 45 ICU beds are available and fully staffed. The seven-day positivity rate rose to a new high of 11.6%.

Shah said as of today, 72% of the entire population of Maine is fully vaccinated. For the 18 and older age group, 29.8% have gotten booster shots, while 28.4% of ages 5 to 11 have gotten at least their first dose of vaccine.

The state is administering 5,620 doses every day of first, second, booster and vaccines for kids. Booster shots make up 73% of all doses administered, while 15% are first doses.

When asked why Maine case rates have seen sustained high numbers, Shah said since Nov. 25, the average percentage of people in the hospital with COVID-19 who were unvaccinated was 66%. Of those hospitalized who are critically ill, 90% are not vaccinated. Two of the largest ICUs in Portland and Bangor reported 100% of patients on ventilators and in the ICU were not vaccinated, he said.

Shah added there are also still rural pockets in the state where people are not vaccinated. “It’s like a fire on a prairie,” he said.

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