The microwave wave continues in Maine and the death toll continues to grow.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,359 new cases and 14 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday. The state continues to see the highest number of cases and death toll from the pandemic, even as Wastewater monitoring in New England suggests numbers could fall in the near future.
Pressure on medical resources remains high, with 418 people hospitalized statewide, slightly lower than Thursday’s pandemic record of 436 inpatients. However, these numbers are overwhelming hospitals and are much higher during last winter’s hospitalization peak, around 200.
Of the 418 patients sick with COVID-19, the state reported on Saturday that 108 are in intensive care, 57 on ventilators.
Like much of the nation, Maine is experiencing a surge of the highly contagious omicron variant, which usually results in less severe cases but still puts pressure on hospitals near the breaking point. In response, Governor Janet Mills has called on the National Guard to assist medical facilities.
While the ommicron variant often causes less severe cases, some infected will become seriously ill. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has warned: the public about taking the ommicron wave lightly, especially because of the heavy burden on the health care system in general.
“Even if omicron were 10 percent milder than delta, but still 200 percent more infectious, the sum of that impact on our population is greater than the impact on any individual,” Shah said.
On Friday the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended more appropriate masks be worn to prevent Americans from becoming infected with omicron. Because the variant spreads so easily, schools and businesses have had to reduce operations because of infected workers. Hospitals are also grappling with workers with COVID-19 to the point that the Maine Army National Guard deploys 169 Guard members to healthcare facilities throughout Maine.
While experts have long said that multi-layer masks that fit snugly over the nose and face are better than regular, floppy masks, the national CDC on Friday revised its recommendations, urging Americans to wear more protective masks.
According to the CDC, loosely woven cloth masks offer the least protection, layered finely woven masks offer more protection, but not as much as the well-fitting disposable surgical masks. The KN-95s provide even more protection, the CDC said, and the N-95s provide the highest level of protection.
“The problem with omicron is that it spreads very quickly,” said Dr. Jeffrey Barkin, president of the Maine Medical Association. “That’s why good masking to keep out those highly contagious virus particles is a good idea if you don’t want to get sick.” At a vaccination site in Portland on Jan. 8, several people they know said they had tested positive. “It seems like everyone has it now,” says Portland’s Shayla Skinner.
In addition to getting vaccinated and boosted, the CDC continues to recommend wearing masks in public, indoor settings for places with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, including Maine.
Due to the increase in ommicrons, even in high-vaccination communities, mask mandates for indoor, public institutions passed by city officials in Portland and Brunswick. Portland stores and businesses are now putting up signs informing customers that masks must be worn to enter buildings.
As in 2020 before vaccines were widely available, the Maine CDC also continues to recommend:
• Wear a mask around people who do not live in your household and when one and a half meters away is not possible.
• Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid close contact with sick people.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Stay at home as much as possible.
If symptomatic or in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, the Maine CDC recommends getting tested. To find test sites, visit: https://www.maine.gov/covid19/testing.
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