Maine reported 799 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a one-day spike in cases following the recent downward trend.

Hospitalization numbers also have risen or leveled off in recent days after declining from a peak in September. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 167 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide, including 57 in critical care and 29 on ventilators.

Also on Thursday, Maine reported a slight drop in the number of active COVID-19 outbreaks in schools statewide. The Department of Education reported 111 outbreaks and 2,694 cases over the past 30 days, down from 113 outbreaks and 2,910 cases reported last week. Sanford High School reported 45 cases and went fully remote Thursday and will do so again Friday in an attempt to control the outbreak.

Five additional deaths were reported in Maine on Thursday. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 96,632 cases of COVID-19 and 1,088 deaths.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 400.4 on Thursday, down from 554.4 a week ago and 443.9 a month ago. York County recorded the highest number of cases on Thursday, with 136, followed by Cumberland County with 130 and Penobscot County with 101. Lincoln County logged the fewest cases with 11. Maine’s statewide rate of 28 cases per 100,000 population, on a seven-day average, is slightly higher than the national average of 27 cases per 100,000, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute.

With enforcement of a mandate looming, COVID-19 immunization among health care workers has increased, according to data posted Wednesday by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

From August to the end of September, hospital staff vaccination rates increased from 85 percent to 92 percent, and in assisted-living facilities from 78 percent to 88 percent. Nursing homes saw a jump in employee vaccinations from 77 percent to 86 percent, the state reported. Health care workers must be fully immunized by Oct. 29, according to state rules. Health care workers who are terminated from their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will in most circumstances not be permitted to collect unemployment, according to an August posting on the Maine Department of Labor website.

While overall vaccination rates increased, the state’s data reveal pockets of low compliance, such as a 19 percent vaccination rate among staff at Heritage Rehabilitation and Living Center in Winthrop, 44 percent at Bangor Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and 53 percent immunized at Two Teakwood Knoll in Lewiston, group homes for those with intellectual disabilities.

During a media briefing on Wednesday, Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said it is possible to successfully implement a vaccination mandate, pointing to the 100 percent immunization rate at Millinocket Regional Hospital that was achieved in September.

“We should recognize it is possible to fully vaccinate health care workers against a communicable disease and not have critical staff shortages,” Lambrew said.

Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston has advocated for a testing option in lieu of vaccination to alleviate a potential staffing crunch, but Gov. Janet Mills rejected the idea this week. Administration officials are working with hospital officials on a plan to limit the impact of any staffing shortfalls on hospital services, including a possible deployment of the National Guard.

The state’s other major hospital systems, including MaineHealth and Northern Light, have not requested a testing option and officials have said they are not anticipating a disruption in services stemming from the vaccine mandate.

Overall, 890,232 Maine people have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 66.2 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, toured a CVS drugstore in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood on Thursday with company officials and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to boost vaccination.

Brooks-LaSure said that with the likely FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines for ages 5-11 coming this fall – possibly early next month – one of the top priorities of the administration is to get children vaccinated. She said local trusted messengers, such as pediatricians and pharmacists, can help overcome hesitancy by parents to the vaccines.

A survey published in the October edition of the Pediatrics scholarly journal found that 42 percent of parents surveyed in February and March were “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely” to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Shah said while hesitancy is a problem, over time people can become more accepting on vaccination.

“What we’ve seen is that those numbers can change,” Shah said.


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