PORTLAND — MaineHealth said it has seen a sharp increase in recent days in the number of
care team members out with COVID-19.

The surge is likely caused by the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant in Maine and New Hampshire, and the result is 842 members of MaineHealth’s care team of about 22,000 were unable to come in to work as of this morning due to COVID-19. Prior to the Christmas holiday, about 200 people per day were absent across the health system because they had contracted or had been exposed to COVID-19.

The spike in absences comes at a time when the health system is already challenged by near-record
numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19, a high demand as a result of people putting off care earlier in the pandemic and an ongoing labor shortage across the health care industry.

“Keeping our workforce healthy has been critical from the beginning,” said Dr. Doug Sawyer, MD,
interim chief medical officer at MaineHealth. “We have been applying the science as fast as we have it. First, with education around social distancing, masking and hand hygiene. Later, with mandatory
vaccines and encouraging boosters. And, most recently, we’ve updated our care team quarantine
procedures based on the best-available science and CDC guidelines to get our people back safely as soon as possible.”

Still, Sawyer said, health care workers at MaineHealth and elsewhere are exhausted, and the overall
health care system is under tremendous stress.

“We need help from our community,” he said. “We’ve set up booster vaccine clinics this week at our
location on Free Street in Portland and at other facilities across our system. We strongly encourage
everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Information about MaineHealth’s vaccination clinics can be found at https://www.vaccine.mainehealth.org

Another concern with the surge is people showing up at emergency departments, urgent care centers
and walk-in clinics who have tested positive with an at-home antigen test and want further confirmation. Something experts say is unnecessary and could further spread the virus.

“At-home antigen tests are reliable if they’re positive and you have symptoms,” said Dora Anne Mills,
MD, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer. “There is no need to have a confirmatory PCR test before you begin following CDC guidelines for isolation.”

Mills noted emergency departments, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers should be used for
medically appropriate needs. The only time anyone who has tested positive should leave isolation is to
seek necessary or emergency medical care. Community members who have tested positive at home
should contact their primary care providers to determine if follow-up care is necessary. Anyone showing any of these signs should seek emergency medical care immediately:

• Trouble breathing
• Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
• New confusion
• Inability to wake or stay awake
• Bluish lips or face

Community members who need a COVID-19 test should visit https://www.maine.gov/covid19/testing to
see a list of COVID testing centers. The CDC also has published helpful guidance on how to treat mild COVID illness at home.

filed under: