AUGUSTA — Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at his Jan. 26 media briefing that despite having a backlog of 56,000 positive lab results waiting to be processed, notification of positive cases will not be affected.

“If you test positive, you’ll find out, regardless of what the backlog stands at,” he said. “It has no impact on when you find out, or what you should do, which is to isolate.” Notification can come from the clinician who ordered the test, the lab who processed the test, or through an automated process at the CDC. 

Shah said the backlog is also not affecting testing in the state, with labs continuing to turn around tests within 24 hours despite receiving a record number of samples.

Maine is experiencing this backlog in part, Shah said, because “we remain committed to the process of case investigation.” Case investigation, he explained, is when a CDC epidemiologist contacts people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to learn where they might have been exposed.

It provides important information about who is getting COVID-19, where and with what symptoms. The process, he said, is how an early outbreak at a Millinocket wedding was detected.

“But omicron has changed things,” he said. The variant is more contagious, spreads earlier and in a short amount of time. As a result, Shah said, his agency will be transitioning from a human-driven case investigation model to an automated one, which will ultimately reduce the backlog. “That is what our team is focused on right now,” he said.

The change is part of a broader shift, he said, in the metrics that matter at this point in the pandemic. “Omicron has lessened the utility of daily case counts, while (it has) upped the importance of other metrics, like hospitalizations and wastewater screening,” he said.

Regarding wastewater screening, he said Rockland and Boothbay have started screening already, with Bethel, Wilton, Bath, Yarmouth, Blue Hill, Belfast, Augusta, Calais, Brunswick, Presque Isle and the Guilford-Sangerville area slated to come online soon. In the Portland area, East End and Westbrook will also be screening wastewater.

In all there will be 23 municipalities taking part in the expanded screenings, he said.

Last Friday, Shah said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued full approval for the use of the drug Remdesivir to treat patients in an outpatient setting to prevent them from ending up in the hospital. The drug, Shah said, is 87% effective in preventing hospitalizations, is in plentiful supply and is safe. It was originally developed to treat hepatitis C.

The last vaccine clinic at the Augusta Armory is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 27. Shah said 10,700 people have been vaccinated at the site and the clinic will continue to provide testing three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Three additional testing sites are available now or will be soon. The Windham Mall has a clinic that is currently open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tests are free, but appointments are required.

Biddeford Shopping Center on Alfred Street is hosting a clinic starting tomorrow, Jan. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be open weekly Wednesday through Friday. There also, testing is free, but appointments are required. 

The YMCA in Auburn will also host a testing clinic starting Jan. 31, and will be open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are available, but not required.

For more information or to register for an appointment, visit maine.gov/covid19/testing.

Two additional deaths were recorded by the Maine CDC, a man and a woman from Cumberland and York counties; one was in their 70s while the other was in their 80s. The overall death count in the state since the pandemic began is now at 1,714.

Right now, 408 people are in the hospital, down from 413 two weeks ago, and 88 are in intensive care units, down from 106 two weeks ago. Currently there are 38 people on ventilators, down from 57 two weeks ago.

The seven-day PCR positivity rate is at 17.4%, down from 19.8% two weeks ago, and 21.5% on Jan. 17, which was the highpoint in the pandemic. Testing volume is 763 tests for every 100,000 people. The state is administering just under 3,000 vaccine doses every day.

Currently 77.3% of the population in Maine is fully vaccinated, with 51.4% of the population boosted as well. Shah said this put Maine in the number three spot in the country for people fully vaccinated and tied for number 1 for people over 65 who are fully vaccinated.

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