Like most of the nation, Maine is experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases fueled by the newest subvariant of the ever-evolving coronavirus just as a new booster shot could become available next month.

While a reminder that the virus is still a threat, the number of new infections caused by the so-called Eris variant is still only a fraction of the numbers recorded during the pandemic’s peaks, and hospitalizations have remained relatively low.

“Eris is a highly contagious subvariant, but it is not causing more severe disease,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer. Mills said the forthcoming vaccines should be highly effective against Eris and similar omicron subvariants that are currently circulating in Maine and across the country. Still, she said COVID-19 is not going away and public health agencies will need to continue to respond to the virus, similar to the annual fight against influenza.

“COVID is a fire that is circulating the globe, and we have to keep putting water on it,” Mills said.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased from about 25 patients in late June and early July to 42 on Wednesday, a significant jump but still about 10 times lower than the peak of the omicron wave in January 2022, when 436 patients in Maine were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the virus has caused more than 7,600 hospitalizations and 3,092 deaths in Maine.


Cases also have been up in recent weeks, from about 30-50 reported per day in late July to about 50-70 reported cases daily in the week ending Aug. 12, the latest case count data available. Cases are considered a less reliable metric than hospitalizations because many people now test at home and those results often are not reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, since the federal public health emergency ended in May, the Biden administration stopped providing free at-home tests to everyone, so some people are falling ill and not testing at all. At-home tests cost about $12 apiece.

Lindsay Hammes, spokeswoman for the Maine CDC, said that “symptoms for COVID may look and feel different this time around, such as more like a flu virus, common cold or allergies.”

Eris, or EG.5, is a descendant of the omicron strain. Symptoms for Eris can include any combination of fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, runny nose, and change in taste and smell, according to the World Health Organization.

Hammes said repeat testing may be necessary.

“If you’re feeling unwell, even if you’re not sure if it’s COVID, the flu, or the common cold, stay home and rest to recover and avoid infecting others at work, school, child care, or out in the community,” Hammes said.

Whether one has to pay for COVID-19 tests depends on several factors. For instance, MaineCare patients can still get at-home tests for free, and some, although not many, private insurance plans may cover the cost of the tests. In-person testing at healthcare facilities in many cases may still be covered by insurance.


Pharmacies appear to have an adequate supply of tests, according to representatives of CVS, Walgreens, and Community Pharmacies. But demand for the test kits is up and a Walgreens official said there may be some isolated stores where COVID-19 tests have temporarily run out.

For people wondering whether to wait for the new vaccine to get a booster shot or to get one now, Mills suggested that patients talk to their primary care provider for advice. If you are in a high-risk category – including older Mainers or those who are immune compromised – and did not get the omicron booster shot last year, it may be better to get boosted now and then get another shot later. However, if you did get boosted last year and are not high risk, it may be OK to wait until the new vaccine arrives, Mills said. About 32% of Maine people received the previous omicron booster through April 2023.

The U.S. CDC has not yet indicated whether the new booster shot will be recommended for everyone or restricted to certain age groups or health profiles, but Mills expects it will be recommended for everyone. Some primary care practices will recommend a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot during the same appointment.

Hammes said the “Maine CDC has been preparing for the fall vaccine rollout” including COVID, influenza, and the new RSV vaccine.

“When the vaccines roll out later this fall, everyone who is eligible should consider getting their updated COVID shot alongside their flu vaccine and, if you’re 60 or older, the RSV vaccine.

Hammes said the “updated COVID vaccine will be targeted to better protect against infection, severe illness, hospitalization, and death from these latest strains of the virus.”

For more information on testing and vaccination, go to

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