State health officials reported 620 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths on Thursday as the delta variant continues to drive a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations across the state.
The large number of new cases — representing the fourth time in a week with more than 600 cases — likely represents new positive test results received by the state over several days rather than during the previous 24-hour period. On Wednesday, Dr. Nirav Shah with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said agency staff were working through more than 2,400 positive test results that had to be reviewed to distinguish new infections from repeat positive tests of known cases.
Shah said the Maine CDC was receiving between 420 and 440 positive test results every day and that additional staff have been added to the review team.
“As we make progress over the next several more days, we anticipate that there will be sustained, high numbers of cases as we make our way through those 2,441 labs,” Shah said.
Maine’s seven-day average of new cases continues to trend upward, standing at 359 as of Wednesday compared to 203 just two weeks ago and 79 at the beginning of August. The case surge has largely been driven by infections among the unvaccinated, although the number of “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated individuals is also rising.
To date, Maine CDC has tracked 79,423 confirmed or potential cases of COVID-19 in the state since March 2020. There have been at least 951 deaths linked to the viral disease in Maine.
New hospitalization figures were not yet available on Thursday morning. But as of Wednesday, there were 187 people hospitalized statewide, with 67 of those in critical care and 32 connected to ventilators.
The spike in cases has strained hospital resources, according to hospital executives. MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other Maine hospitals, has dialed back elective surgeries to make room for unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
“We don’t have an end in sight to when we can resume normal capacity,” Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer at MaineHealth, said earlier this week.
On the vaccination front, 72.2 percent of eligible Mainers had received the full regimen of doses needed for full inoculation against COVID-19 as of Wednesday. That number falls to 63.6 percent when looking at Maine’s entire population of 1.3 million people. But Maine continues to have among the the highest vaccination rates in the country, exceeded only by New England neighbors Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
This story will be updated.
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