Maine is reporting 799 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a one-day spike in cases following recent downward trends. There were five additional deaths.
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 on Thursday, with 11 new cases. 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 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.
But 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. Mills 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 population.
“We’ve made tremendous, striking progress on vaccines, but we have more to do,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, in Wednesday’s briefing.
The Maine CDC on Thursday reported 167 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide, including 57 in critical care and 29 on a ventilator.
This story will be updated.