Televised briefings by Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, became a much-needed antidote to the anxiety of living during an unpredictable pandemic, offering vital public health information with humor, calm and patience.

But at Tuesday’s briefing, even Shah’s patience appeared to be running thin. “I’ll be straight with everybody,” he said. “I’m concerned. The numbers are high and they are going up.”

What’s changed is the delta variant, which is responsible for virtually all of the new cases. It is not only more easily transmissible, it’s disproportionately affecting people in rural areas, and it’s infecting more younger people than the version of COVID that circulated last winter.

It’s not just geography in play but also politics. COVID denialism has become an ingrained element of Republican Party activism. The same areas that voted to re-elect Donald Trump in 2020 are the ones with the lowest levels of vaccination.

So as COVID becomes another defining issue in the culture war, Shah is right to be concerned. We all should approach this issue with a sense of urgency.

Not all the news is bad. Maine is still one of the national leaders in getting eligible people vaccinated, and we have among the lowest fatality rates. Along with the other New England states, we have low rates of transmission, compared to Southern states like Florida and Louisiana.


Vaccinated people are far less likely than unvaccinated people to be infected by the virus, even the delta variant, and vaccinated people who do catch COVID are much less likely to get seriously ill, become hospitalized or die.

But that doesn’t mean we have nothing to fear. The seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled since the beginning of the month, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine has doubled in just two weeks. There were more people in Maine intensive care units this week than there were people with COVID who were hospitalized earlier this month.

Shah identified other troubling trends Tuesday.

The surge in cases is largely among people who are unvaccinated, who make up 70 to 75 percent of the people who are now hospitalized.

The new cases are largely among younger people, who had not been affected in the earlier stages of the pandemic. Individuals under age 20 now make up 19 percent of all cases that Maine has recorded since the start of the pandemic.

Shah said the data show that children are now catching COVID at the same rate as unvaccinated adults. Although children are not showing up in hospitals, they are likely to transmit the virus to family members who may be more vulnerable.

The time for patience is over. The Mills administration’s vaccine mandate for health care workers is a good start, but it should be extended to other professions, including police, corrections officers and teachers. Now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval for adults from the Food and Drug Administration, it should be mandated for people who work in frontline positions.

Private employers should also require vaccines and masks in the workplace to stop the spread of the virus. People who choose not to protect themselves should not be allowed to put others at risk.

The time for patience is over.

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