AUGUSTA — Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday, Jan. 5, the seven-day positivity rate has climbed to a level not seen before in the state, 18.05%. The rate he said, is trending similarly in all the New England states with New Hampshire at 20.4%, Massachusetts at 21% and Connecticut at 24%.

Much of the increase in the rate he attributed to the omicron variant. While the state saw an increase of 1,326 new COVID-19 cases since yesterday, Shah said, the numbers are an undercount. “The prevalence is certainly much greater,” he said. “It (omicron) is well established.”

In Africa, he said, omicron cases rose sharply then also dropped just as rapidly, but he added more data is needed to determine what will happen in Maine. “I hope we go in that direction,” he said, “but I am prepared to be wrong on that.”

Testing right now in the state is hard to find, Shah said. “I acknowledge that.” A drive-through PCR testing site will be activated at the Augusta Armory starting Jan. 10 and will be available by appointment. For more information on testing sites and to sign up, visit maine.gov/covid19/testing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded the eligibility for booster shots to children 12 to 15, Shah noted. The FDA also shortened the time between the completion of primary Pfizer vaccinations and a booster to five months, down from six months. The agency also authorized a third primary series dose for children 5 through 11 who have compromised immune systems.

Maine CDC reported 26 more deaths Wednesday from COVID-19, 25 of which were discovered by searching state vital records from early December. There are now 382 people in the hospital with COVID-19, up from 275 two weeks ago. Of them, 117 are in intensive care units, down from 124 two weeks ago, and 59 people are on ventilators, down from 60 two weeks ago. Statewide there are 49 ICU beds and 10 pediatric intensive care beds available. Shah said 70% of people in hospitals are not fully vaccinated.

As of today, he said, 76% of eligible people in the state have been vaccinated. Of those, only 45% have received a booster shot.

Even with the mutations of the omicron variant, Shah said, at-home test such as BinaxNOW are effective at detecting the virus, especially in people who are symptomatic. “If you get a positive result, you do not need to confirm with a PCR test,” Shah said. “You can take that to the bank.”

Some recent data, Shah said, suggest swobbing from the back of the throat is more effective at detecting the virus. Even though the U.S. CDC has not weighed in yet, he said, “I would swob in back of the throat.”

On a positive note, Shah said, vaccines are widely available, they work spectacularly well, and keep people alive and out of the hospital. And for the most part across the state, he said, kids are attending school in person. “We’re not in the position that we were in in March 2020,” he said.