A COVID-19 outbreak has been reported in the emergency department at a hospital in Portland, Maine.
Nine staff members at Maine Medical Center have tested positive for coronavirus, including some who were fully vaccinated, a hospital spokesperson told NBC affiliate News Center Maine. A tenth was announced by the hospital Tuesday.
It's not clear exactly how many of the infections are breakthrough cases — when a person tests positive for COVID after they've been fully vaccinated. Four additional cases at the Maine Medical Center, but not on the Emergency Department's floor, were being monitored as well, the hospital said Tuesday.
Asked on Tuesday if there is any indication that the outbreak was caused by a new COVID-19 variant and if samples from the people who tested positive would be sequenced, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention representative Robert Long said, “the investigation is ongoing. Genome sequencing on positive test samples of affected individuals will be done if those samples are sent to us. MaineHealth also does indicator testing, which is not full genome sequencing but which can provide preliminary information on which strain of the virus is present in the test sample.”
As for whether or not vaccine effectiveness waning over time was a cause for the outbreak, Long again said, “the investigation is ongoing,” but added, “to date there is no evidence that the cases result from reduced effectiveness of a vaccine.”
Long also noted that “the best tool” people have to protect themselves from COVID-19 is getting a vaccine.
The outbreak was reported to the Maine CDC on Aug. 5, the state's Department of Health and Human Services Communications Director told News Center Maine.
According to a spokesperson, the hospital's full emergency department staff has been tested for the virus, and testing will be expanded to support staff. Additionally, all patients who were exposed in the emergency department have been contacted and none have tested positive so far.
News Center Maine obtained one of the hospital's internal memos that said "In the last few weeks, there have been 16 COVID + employees who have all been vaccinated."
The memo said the hospital is considering reinstating screeners at employee entrances to confirm daily screening is being conducted again, and that mandatory eye protection may be reinstated again, as well.
The hospital continues to require masking in its facilities, in addition to social distancing whenever possible.
Maine Medical Center had planned to re-instate visitor restrictions Monday due to the increased spread of the virus, News Center Maine reported. This includes limiting visitors for adult inpatients to one a day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Maine has had more success than many states in controlling COVID-19, but cases have been rising in recent weeks.
COVID in Maine
Last week, the parent of Maine Medical Center and the state's largest health care provider — MaineHealth — announced COVID-19 vaccinations would be a requirement for employment. The new policy, mandating that 23,000 workers get vaccinated this fall, goes into effect on Oct. 1, officials said.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer of MaineHealth, said the delta variant that’s sweeping across the country makes it imperative for staff to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
“With the delta variant, we’re seeing a surge across the country. We are seeing an increase in COVID cases, and hospitalizations, and deaths,” she said.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Gov. Janet Mills announced Monday that 80% of adults in Maine have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report