The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported another 333 cases of the novel coronavirus and four additional deaths on Sunday as the state prepares to continue its roll-out of vaccines.

In total there have been 21,880 cases of COVID-19 in Maine since the pandemic began, including 18,769 confirmed and 3,111 probable cases. A total of 323 people have died.

The Maine CDC did not report case numbers Saturday because the state lab that processes testing samples did not do so on Christmas Day and other labs that typically report to the agency also did not do so.

When the lab closed for Thanksgiving last month, the Maine CDC reported lower than expected numbers the following weekend because fewer results were coming in from other labs in Maine and elsewhere in the United States over the holiday.

“We do expect an influx of COVID-19 test results from outside labs early this week, similar to what happened after the Thanksgiving weekend, when most outside labs did not report results from Thursday to Sunday,” Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said in an email Sunday. “The Maine CDC lab worked Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, but some outside labs did not report results for those days.”

The people whose deaths were reported Sunday were a woman in her 80s from York County, a man in his 90s from Cumberland County, a man in his 50s from Cumberland County and a woman in her 80s from Oxford County.

 

On Sunday there were 189 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, an increase of four since Friday. Fifty-four people were in critical care and 17 on a ventilator. There were 109 critical care beds available out of 377 total and 234 ventilators available out of 318, not including 443 alternative ventilators. The seven-day average of daily new cases was at 448, an increase from 431 one week ago.

Cumberland County led the way in new cases reported Sunday with 138, bringing that county’s total number of confirmed and probable cases to 6,610 since the pandemic began. York County reported 100 new cases for a total of 4,400. The next highest number of new cases reported Sunday was in Kennebec County, where 21 new cases brought the county’s total to 1,611 to date.

Androscoggin County continues to have the highest case rate of Maine’s 16 counties with 227 cases per 10,000 residents.

The state is continuing to roll out vaccinations and will prioritize health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities with shipments expected to arrive this week. More than 17,000 people had been vaccinated as of Sunday. Volunteers are stepping in to help vaccinate front-line health care workers amid high demand for the vaccine and a process that’s more time-consuming and labor-intensive than some had anticipated.

Paramedics and EMTs are also starting to receive the vaccine as part of the state’s push to get health care workers vaccinated first. On Saturday and Sunday the Portland Fire Department vaccinated 80 firefighters who are cross-trained as paramedics and EMTs and who work providing emergency medical services. Another 80 first responders are scheduled for this week, said Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McGuire.

The department employs 207 firefighters, only four of whom are not certified in emergency medicine. The vaccine will be available for those four at a later date when the state expands availability beyond health care workers, McGuire said.

Earlier this month, 11 Portland firefighters called out sick after being exposed to a co-worker who later tested positive for the virus. Three deputy chiefs were later issued written reprimands for not enforcing a policy that firefighters wear masks at all times in stations when social distancing is not possible.

“This vaccine changes nothing for us in this moment,” McGuire said. “We made it clear our mask and travel policies are still in place. We don’t know what this will look like several weeks from now after the second dose. We’re assuming there’s no protection until after everyone has their second dose on board, but my hope is in four or five months if thousands of people get vaccinated we will see active cases go down and we can start thinking about changing policy. Personally, I will say there is some relief to see it’s here.”

Congress has overwhelmingly approved a $2.3 trillion spending package that includes $900 billion in pandemic relief, and President Trump signed the legislation Sunday night.

Nationwide there has been an average of 188,892 daily new cases per day over the last week, a decrease of 9 percent from the average two weeks ago, according to The New York Times. Many states are improving in the number of new cases reported, but deaths continue to remain high. Maine is still doing well compared to other states in terms of average new cases per 100,000 people, but the state is also continuing to see its highest numbers of the pandemic.

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