Maine on Tuesday reported 569 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period. There were two additional deaths.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not report case counts over the weekend, so Tuesday’s case counts reflect cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 242,602 cases of COVID-19, and 2,282 deaths.
Hospitalizations increased from 130 on Monday to 132 on Tuesday. While Tuesday’s uptick was modest, the previous two days in Maine saw a surge of 26 additional patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a 25 percent increase. There were 27 COVID-19 patients in critical care and five on ventilators.
While the number of vaccinated patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased in Maine, public health experts say that’s not because the vaccines are any less effective, but because the percentage of unvaccinated people who have not already contracted COVID-19 is a much lower share of the overall population compared with last spring or summer. Maine now has about 75 percent of its residents fully vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated but still require hospitalization tend to be older adults with weakened immune systems related to other conditions.
Cumulatively, about 67 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 since vaccines became readily available in 2021 were unvaccinated. But from April 16 through Tuesday, among new hospital admissions reported to the Maine CDC where the vaccination status was noted, 55 percent were unvaccinated and 45 percent were vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced that supplies of Paxlovid, an oral antiviral pill that if used correctly prevents hospitalization by 90 percent, will be increased, including a substantial expansion of the “Test to Treat” program. Maine is currently receiving 400 to 420 courses of Paxlovid medication per week, while 175,000 are being distributed per week nationwide. Details of how the expansion will roll out are forthcoming, officials say.
The Test to Treat program aims to allow patients to walk into a pharmacy, and if they are eligible, get Paxlovid pills immediately to begin treatment. The Biden administration also is expected to broaden eligibility for Paxlovid as supplies become more robust. Currently, it’s recommended for those with high-risk conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Maine has 31 pharmacies where Paxlovid is available, although not all are part of the Test to Treat program.
Public health experts are not predicting a return to the winter omicron surge, when Maine peaked at 436 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Jan. 13 and hospital systems were extremely stressed.
Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a South Portland pediatrician and infectious disease expert, said Monday that she is “relatively reassured” the health care system will not be overwhelmed this spring, despite the recent increase in hospitalizations.
“We should not be shocked that we are seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations,” Blaisdell said, pointing to relaxed public health measures such as the suspension of mask mandates.
But Blaisdell said vaccination levels and prior infection should help keep any surges to a “hill, not a mountain.”
“Cases are going up, but they are not going up with that same velocity that we saw with delta and omicron,” Blaisdell said.
Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in a tweet Monday that increases in cases and hospitalizations are being driven by the BA.2 omicron subvariant. The subvariant is more contagious than the BA.1 omicron variant, but like the original omicron variant, BA.2 is less severe than previous strains of coronavirus.
Nationally, hospital admissions are up 6.6 percent on a seven-day average, and up 6.5 percent in the Northeast. Cases are up about 20 percent during the past week across the United States.