AUGUSTA — Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday, Dec. 16, that even though no confirmed cases of the omicron variant have been detected in the state so far, “it is just a matter of time before we find it.”

Early data suggest the new variant is more contagious than the delta variant. Shah said once the virus is in the body, it multiplies faster than the delta variant. The contagiousness of this variant will undoubtedly put more patients into an already strained health care system, he added.

On a positive note, two recent papers coming from South Africa suggest the omicron variant may not cause as severe symptoms as the delta or previous variants, which Shah called “a glimmer of hope.” 

Also hopeful is the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing people from contracting the new variant. “There might be a slight diminished effectiveness if you don’t have a booster,” he noted. With a booster, data suggest vaccines are on average 70% effective.

Shah said the big take-away is the importance of getting a booster shot. Acknowledging that finding a place to get a booster shot has been challenging in the past, Shah said the state has opened a large-scale clinic at the armory in Augusta, which is open until 7 p.m. tonight.

Northern Light Home Care and Hospice will offer a vaccination clinic from Dec. 14-22 in South Portland at the old Pier 1 building, along with a large-scale vaccination effort at the Auburn Mall. For a comprehensive list of vaccination sites in the state, Shah said to look for “Maine COVID-19 vaccination sites” online. 

The state is now administering 9,882 doses of vaccine on average every day, which includes 6,745 booster shots. Shah said, as of today, 74.7% of the entire population of Maine is fully vaccinated. By contrast, only 40% of Mainers 18 and older have been fully vaccinated and “boosted,” Shah said.

Using vital records from Nov. 8 to Nov. 30, Maine CDC reported 27 COVID-related deaths in Maine today. Seven of the 27 deaths were recent, Shah noted. Twelve were women and 15 were men. The total number of deaths in the state since the pandemic began is now 1,408.

Maine CDC is also reporting 1,286 new cases of the disease since yesterday. As of today, 381 people are in hospitals with the virus, 114 are in intensive care units and 66 are on ventilators. 

Shah said the overwhelming majority of people in ICUs, between 80% and 90%, are not fully vaccinated. The seven-day positivity rate declined to 9.9% from 11% two weeks ago. Overall there are 40 available ICU beds in the state, with 32 adult beds and eight pediatric beds.