Maine on Tuesday reported 667 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period, and eight additional deaths.
If health officials are keeping up with test reports and there is not a backlog of cases to verify and report this week, the numbers reported on Tuesday would represent a modest decline in cases over the weekend. But the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention over the last few weeks has needed to clear backlogs from weekend cases because there have been so many positive test results coming in. It was not immediately clear on Tuesday if there would be a backlog this week.
The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 441.1 on Tuesday, compared to 359 a week ago and 173.7 a month ago.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 81,177 cases of COVID-19, and 969 deaths.
The recent surge in cases is due to the delta variant sweeping through unvaccinated populations across the country. Nearly 100 percent of people in hospital intensive care units on some days – and 70 to 75 percent of all those hospitalized – are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Maine CDC has said.
Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a South Portland pediatrician and infectious disease expert, said there are some studies that show the delta variant, in addition to being more contagious, also causes more severe disease, but the studies are not conclusive.
“Is the delta variant more virulent? Or do we just have a bigger denominator of people who are sick? That is one of the major questions we are trying to figure out,” Blaisdell said.
Meanwhile, Maine continues to have high rates of hospitalizations, and on Monday broke a record of the number of people needing mechanical ventilators to breathe, with 40 in Maine hospitals on ventilators. On Monday, there were 194 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 67 in critical care.
Maine’s hospital executives have pleaded with eligible people who have not yet gotten their shots to do so to save hospital capacity. MaineHealth, the Maine’s largest health care network with Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other hospitals in the state, announced last week that it was postponing some elective surgeries to maintain capacity for COVID-19 patients. Examples of postponed surgeries include knee and hip replacements, and other surgeries that can safely wait.
In addition to encouraging people to get vaccinated, federal and state governments are increasingly mandating COVID-19 vaccination.
President Biden last week introduced new vaccine mandates that will require employers with 100 or more workers to have their employees get immunized or tested weekly for COVID-19, among other new vaccine requirements. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in news reports on Monday that he supported vaccination requirements for air travel.
Despite recent increases in case counts, Maine’s 26.3 cases per 100,000 residents is below the national average of 44 per 100,000. Connecticut has the lowest case rate in the nation at 15.2 per 100,000, while West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee have the worst rates in the nation, with each more than 90 cases per capita.
This story will be updated