Maine officials said this week that they have 46,000 positive COVID-19 tests to sort through because of a backlog caused by an Omicron variant “tsunami.”
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Maine CDC Director, Dr. Nirav Shah, said “the current COVID wave has been so large that it has outstripped our ability” to register new daily cases every single day.
Maine’s state CDC said it has to search for possible duplicate positive reports and then enter its official tally into a U.S. CDC web portal to come up with formal case numbers, but a tripling of its average of incoming positive results from three weeks ago has slowed down that process.
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The result is that Maine’s official COVID case numbers do not present a very clear picture of the pandemic in the state.
“Daily case counts are and always have been an underestimate of the true number of cases out there,” said Shah, explaining that the backlog has only made the tenable measure of daily cases less likely to reveal COVID’s prevalence accurately.
To search for more precise numbers, Maine will add places like Bethel and Bath to its list of cities and towns tracking COVID-19 in wastewater.
Officials hope that will mean they get numbers earlier that are more geographically specific, no matter who opts to get tested for the virus or not.
“We’re being aggressive in our approach to expanding the use of wastewater testing,” said Shah, adding that the state thinks “it’s a better predictor and metric."
Shah also said that data will then be used to give hospitals and doctors in Maine a better sense of how to prepare for the likelihood that someone showing COVID symptoms who arrives at a medical facility, actually has the illness at a time hospitals have recently hit records again.
“Hospitalizations across the state have been increasing as far as COVID-19 goes. Northern Light Health hit a record last week in the number of total patients admitted across all our hospitals,” said Dr. James Jarvis, Senior Physician Executive for Northern Light Health, during a separate press briefing this week.
Asked if Maine would see its COVID surge numbers in the same manner as other places in the Northeast, state officials said Wednesday that they believe it’s too early to know whether or not that pattern will repeat here, but they’re hopeful.