Maine officials are struggling to keep up with more than 400 reports of positive COVID-19 tests a day, and higher case counts are expected in the coming days as Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention staff work through a large backlog, the agency’s director said on Wednesday.

Maine reported 732 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday for the four-day period that included Labor Day. There were six additional deaths.

But the number of new cases represented only the positive tests state staff could verify and process, not the number of Maine people who actually tested positive.

“As of this morning we have 2,441 positive COVID labs that are awaiting review,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC. “We are right now receiving anywhere from 420 to 440 positive results every single day that are adding on to the stack that we have to review.”

The tests haven’t yet been added to the daily case counts because the CDC first has to screen out duplicate tests so that positive tests aren’t counted twice. Shah said 20 to 40 percent of all positive tests are duplicates, so even after screening out duplicates, about 1,500 to 2,000 cases will be added to case counts in the coming days.

“There will be a higher than average number of cases per day,” Shah said. The state already has worked through backlogs of more than 1,700 cases for the past two weeks.

The CDC has added staff to work through the backlog and try to keep up with the surge of cases and tests, although the number of people assigned to the task varies, according to Robert Long, spokesman for the agency.

“To help handle the consistently high volume of positive tests submitted each day since mid-August, we have redeployed staff, assigned Maine National Guard members to the case processing team, and hired and begun training new staff,” Long wrote in an email. “There are multiple components to case processing – test validation, case investigations, outbreak investigations, contact tracing, etc. – so the number of individuals involved in each of those facets of the work varies from day to day.”

Based on the cases processed and reported, Maine’s seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 317.1 on Wednesday, up from 282.1 a week ago and 122.4 a month ago. Maine has the seventh-lowest virus prevalence per capita in the United States, with 23.5 cases per 100,000, on a seven-day daily average. Connecticut has the lowest daily rates in the country at 14.7 per 100,000, while the national average is 46. The states with the worst rates – Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina – have more than 90 cases per 100,000.

With the delta variant causing a summer spike in cases in Maine, demand for testing has grown and outpaced supply, Shah said.

“Access to testing remains a challenge across the country and across the state,” Shah said. “Testing supplies across the country and the state are strained right now.”

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 78,803 cases of COVID-19, and 946 deaths. Thirty-six percent of new cases reported on Wednesday were in those under 20 years old, according to the Maine CDC. Those under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. The FDA is expected to approve the vaccine for younger children later this year or early next year.

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.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have soared over the past month driven by the delta variant, going from 49 statewide on Aug. 7 to 187 on Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 67 are in critical care and 32 are on ventilators.

About four of every five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, according to state statistics.

“We don’t have an end in sight to when we can resume normal capacity,” Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer at MaineHealth, said on Tuesday.

Boomsma said some examples of surgeries that are being postponed include hip and knee replacements, some back surgeries, non-emergency abdominal or head and neck surgeries. She said some colonoscopies also are being delayed to free up staff to take care of COVID-19 patients.

She said these are surgeries that can be safely postponed, although they can affect the patients’ quality of life while they are waiting.

Shah said on Wednesday that unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are crowding out services for people who need hospital services.

“Our hospitals are filled with individuals being treated for COVID who are not vaccinated,” Shah said.

Dr. James Jarvis, critical incident commander for COVID-19 at Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, said that for the most part Northern Light hospitals are not yet postponing surgeries, but it soon could get to that if hospitalizations keep increasing.

Meanwhile, as children are returning to school, outbreaks are starting to occur. Shah said 10 schools are currently reporting outbreaks. Also, some high school football games have been postponed due to COVID-19 exposures.

“Much of what we are detecting right now is community transmission occurring over the summer as kids come back into the classroom,” Shah said.

On the vaccination front, 63.5 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million residents have received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Shah said Maine is looking to persuade people who haven’t yet gotten their COVID-19 shots to get vaccinated when they come in for their annual flu shot.

“There’s nothing that prevents somebody from getting a flu shot in the left arm and a COVID shot in the right arm,” Shah said.


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