‘Things Are Bad' in Maine, Amid Pre-Thanksgiving COVID Spike

Maine's case and hospitalization records come during a strain on hospital beds in the state caused by both the pandemic and labor shortages

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As millions of New Englanders make plans to travel somewhere near or far for Thanksgiving, some states in the region are setting all-time records for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Maine, for one, hit its highest-ever single-day case rate this week, along with a record 280 hospitalizations and its highest two-week PCR test positivity rate.

"Things are bad," said Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine's CDC director, during a news briefing on Wednesday, citing the spike as a reason why Maine officials opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all adults 18 and older before the U.S. CDC did.

The CDC is urging people 50 and older to get a COVID booster vaccine after the FDA has given their approval for the use of booster doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for everyone over 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director signed off on boosters for all adults late Friday.

With Thanksgiving gatherings a week away, Shah said that people could get together in relative safety in Maine if they are vaccinated and recommended that family members or friends coming together urge anyone meeting with them who are unvaccinated to get the shot.

He also said that families, friends and other groups may want to consider wearing masks indoors, increasing ventilation or moving activities outdoors if people like children under five, who cannot yet be vaccinated, join celebrations.

"People should feel free to visit their families," said Maine Gov. Janet Mills during remarks to reporters on Friday outside a vaccine clinic for children ages 5-11 in Bath.

She added that people should, at the same time, "take the usual safeguards."

Asked if she would reinstate mask mandates in light of the recent jump in Maine's COVID cases, Mills gave a firm "no," pointing out that she rescinded her emergency powers that would allow her to make such a unliteral decision in June and that "it's now in the hands of the people to get vaccinated and to keep themselves, their families and communities safe."

Instead, Mills pointed to clinics like the one she was visiting at Bath's Morse High School as a solution to the problem of rising cases, though Maine's overall vaccination rate sits at about 70% of its population.

"Obviously we're seeing higher case rates and hospitalizations in those counties where there are lower vaccination rates," she said.

Massachusetts has been seeing a spike in COVID cases, which has experts concerned — a spike was predicted to follow Thanksgiving. Doctors shared advice for safe holiday travel.

Parents and school officials at the clinic on Friday said the timing of the event could not be more ideal given the surge .

"Hopefully we can keep more students in school for longer," said Katie Joseph, assistant superintendent for Maine Regional School Unit 1.

"I'm concerned by what's happening with COVID across the country and in Maine," said Marsha Dunn, a mother of two students who received vaccine doses on Friday.

However, Dunn added that her children being vaccinated "is a game-changer" that make her feel better about gathering this Thanksgiving, especially since she has older relatives with underlying health conditions.

Maine's case and hospitalization records come during a strain on hospital beds in the state caused by both the pandemic and labor shortages that health care groups like Maine Health have been pointing out for weeks.

As of Friday, those capacity concerns were still expected to linger for months.

As a federal judge opposed Maine's COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers, Gov. Janet Mills took questions about a shortage of health care workers.
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