Maine reported 506 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday as the state works through a backlog of tests and patients fill intensive care units in record numbers. There were eight additional deaths.
The state is also reporting 14 active outbreaks in schools, although so far schools have not been considered to be the source of transmission, state health officials have said. The students were instead believed to have been exposed to the virus in their communities as the delta variant spreads through all parts of the state.
Among the school outbreaks are four cases at Great Falls Elementary School in Gorham, four cases at Windham High School and at least three cases at Massabesic High School in Waterboro. Outbreaks are defined as three or more cases in one location.
COVID-19 exposure has resulted in at least seven high school football games being postponed or canceled so far this season. Generally, unvaccinated students who are close contacts of others who are infected with COVID-19 are required to quarantine, while exposed vaccinated students do not need to quarantine.
The vaccines are not yet available for those under age 12, but the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11 later this fall, according to news reports. That approval could come before Halloween or before Thanksgiving.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 79,929 cases of COVID-19, and 959 deaths.
The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 337 on Friday, compared to 371 a week ago and 147 a month ago. Maine has the sixth-lowest rate of virus prevalence in the nation, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, with 26.7 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 45 cases per 100,000. Connecticut has the lowest rates in the country at 15.4, while hard-hit states like Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky are experiencing rates of 90 or more cases per 100,000.
With the pandemic is still surging in much of the country, President Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new vaccination mandates, including requiring business with 100 or more employees to have their workers vaccinated or tested weekly, and a mandate for federal workers and health care workers to get their shots. About one in three Maine workers will be affected by the new mandates.
During his Wednesday media briefing, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said agency staffers 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 420-440 positive test results every day and that additional staff have been added to the review team.
“We anticipate that there will be sustained, high numbers of cases as we make our way through those 2,441 labs,” Shah said on Wednesday.
While the 192 total hospitalizations in Maine – as of Friday – is still shy of last winter’s peak numbers, the 72 patients in intensive care unit beds is more than at any time during the first peak of the pandemic last January. The number of patients in ICUs dropped slightly from a high of 74 on Thursday. Additionally, 37 of those people – roughly 20 percent of all hospitalizations – required ventilators to assist with breathing.
Between 70 and 75 percent of those hospitalized – and nearly 100 percent of people in the ICU on some days – are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Maine CDC said.
“It’s deeply concerning,” Shah said about current hospitalizations and the record number of ICU patients. “There is a saying that what’s predictable is preventable. That’s kind of what keeps me up at night. The delta surge was predictable. The question is: How many of the instances of people being hospitalized or in the ICU or on ventilators, how many of those are preventable?”
This story will be updated