The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday reported 417 cases of the novel coronavirus and seven additional deaths, representing a continued uncontrolled spiral of virus infections as a newly approved vaccine is due to be made available to some Mainers next week. There were 175 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Maine on Saturday.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in a tweet on Saturday that the first doses are expected to arrive in Maine on Monday or Tuesday.

“This is a major development. It marks the beginning of a gradual slowing of the COVID-19 train,” Shah said in the tweet. “But the pandemic will not end just because vaccinations are beginning. Like a speeding train, there is time between when the brake is pulled and the train slows, let alone stops. The best way to maximize impact of COVID-19 vaccines is to slow the train down as much as possible before vaccinations start.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave emergency approval for a coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer, clearing the way for medical workers and other high-risk groups – such as long-term care residents – to get shots. Maine’s first shipment is expected to be 12,675 doses and total 72,925 over the first three weeks, including shipments of the Pfizer vaccine and a second vaccine by Moderna. Moderna is expected to receive FDA approval for its vaccine shortly after a Dec. 17 public hearing at which scientists review the vaccine.

Maine’s seven-day average of daily new cases now stands at 356.4, another all-time high after new daily cases topped 400 for the first time this past week. The state added more than 2,000 cases and recorded 23 deaths of people with COVID-19 over the past week.

On Friday, Gov. Janet Mills struck a hard line on mask-wearing in public, directing businesses and all other “public spaces” to deny entry to people not wearing face coverings. Police “stand ready” to assist with those who refuse to follow guidelines, she said.

Maine’s cumulative cases rose to 15,620 on Saturday, of which 13,687 have been confirmed by testing and 1,933 are considered probable cases of COVID-19.

Two hundred fifty-seven people have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in Maine, and 10,477 have recovered from the disease. Maine had 4,886 active cases on Saturday, compared to 2,907 a week ago. The people reported Saturday to have died were three Cumberland County residents – a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s, and a woman in her 90s – and four York County women, one in her 50s, one in her 80s, and two in their 90s.

Several of Maine’s hospitals, meanwhile, are seeing all-time highs in COVID-19 inpatients as the virus spreads ever more widely. Maine Medical Center in Portland admitted 40 COVID-19 inpatients on Thursday, averaging a daily 36.7 for the week. Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford averaged 22.7 daily COVID-19 inpatients for the same week.

The surge in cases and hospitalizations has Maine hospital officials expressing concern about staffing capacity at their institutions.

Maine’s rising case numbers have led state leaders to take ever more drastic measures in recent weeks, and now the governor says officials are “running out” of public health tools to reduce the spread.

County by county in Maine since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 1,910 coronavirus cases in Androscoggin, 267 in Aroostook, 4,794 in Cumberland, 332 in Franklin, 383 in Hancock, 1,201 in Kennebec, 238 in Knox, 189 in Lincoln, 606 in Oxford, 1,251 in Penobscot, 69 in Piscataquis, 202 in Sagadahoc, 544 in Somerset, 280 in Waldo, 210 in Washington, and 3,142 in York.

By age, 15.2 percent of patients were under 20, while 17.4 percent were in their 20s, 13.9 percent were in their 30s, 12.5 percent were in their 40s, 14.7 percent were in their 50s, 11.8 percent were in their 60s, 7.7 percent were in their 70s, and 6.8 percent were 80 or older.

Women still make up a slight majority of cases, at 51.6 percent.

Of the 175 patients with COVID-19 in Maine hospitals on Saturday, 46 were in intensive care and 15 were on ventilators. The state had 92 intensive care unit beds available of a total 381, and 236 ventilators available of 315. There were also 444 alternative ventilators.

Around the world on Saturday evening, there were 71.5 million known cases of COVID-19 and 1.6 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States had 16 million cases and 297,501 deaths.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.


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