COVID-19 cases continued to spike in Maine, as the state reported 1,080 new cases Saturday and 11 additional deaths.

The Maine death toll now numbers 1,441 since the pandemic began.

Doctors expect Maine’s historic case surge to continue, and even pick up speed, with the more contagious omicron variant now in Maine. On Friday, Maine reported its first cases of omicron in five samples from Penobscot County following a genomic sequencing of positive test results reported to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, the Maine CDC reported Saturday that 381 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those patients, 115 are in critical care units, 68 are on ventilators.

More people per capita died from COVID-19 in November in Franklin County than anywhere else in the state. For every 10,000 residents of Franklin County, approximately four died from COVID, according to historical data from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Across Maine, which recorded 164 deaths last month, the death rate per capita was slightly more than one per 10,000.

November was also the deadliest month of the pandemic for Androscoggin and Franklin counties, in terms of the percentage of all deaths recorded.

One year ago, on Dec. 18, 2020, the state reported 191 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 46 in critical care and 17 on ventilators. At that time, Maine had a daily new case count of 590, about half of what the new case count has been in recent days.

Experts believe that the omicron variant may cause less severe illness than the delta variant that has filled Maine hospitals and overwhelmed health care workers.  But, they caution that while omicron may cause less severe symptoms in most people, it spreads more easily and will make some very ill, adding to the burden hospitals already face.

Getting a booster shot is key to protecting against the new variant, as well as social distancing and wearing masks in public, doctors say.

The arrival of omicron is unwelcome but not unexpected, Gov. Janet Mills said Friday. “We knew it was only a matter of time before we detected the presence of omicron here in Maine,” she said in a press release. “The takeaway for Maine people should be this: get vaccinated now and wear a mask when you’re indoors in public. Whether it’s your first shot or your third shot, getting vaccinated can protect your health, keep you from getting seriously sick, and even save your life,” Mills said.

Dr. Ashish Jha, an infectious disease expert with the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a series of tweets Friday that people should expect a “disruptive” January and to avoid holiday parties and other large gatherings. “We should expect a large wave of infections in January,” Jha tweeted.

In addition to scheduled vaccinations at Maine pharmacies, a number of booster clinics are popping up, Maine’s Dr. Shah tweeted Saturday. They include a vaccination clinic for adults and children ages 5 and up from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, at the Yarmouth High School gym. Moderna, Pfizer, J & J will be available.  The clinic is offered by the Yarmouth Community Coronavirus Taskforce and community pharmacies.

On Monday walk-in vaccinations will be given at a “healthy for the holidays” booster clinic at the MaineHealth office, 110 Free St., Portland, from 8:30-5. On Tuesday appointment vaccinations will be given at the same location from 8:30-5. To register, go to vaccine.mainehealth.org.

Vaccinations are also available in Sanford at the York County Vaccination Center, 1364 Main St. For more information call 207-324-1578.

On Saturday John Hopkin’s COVID-19 web page reported that in the last 28 days there have been 34,397 deaths from the virus in the United States, bringing the country’s death toll to more than 800,000.

That is significantly higher than the United States military members who died in both World War I and World War II. According to the Department of Defense, 521,915 service men and women died in both of those wars.

Sun Journal staff writer Emily Baker contributed to this story.

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