The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported another 333 cases of the coronavirus on Sunday as the state prepares to continue its roll-out of vaccines and as uncertainty remains around federal pandemic relief and unemployment benefits.
In total there have been 21,880 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including 18,769 confirmed and 3,111 probable cases. A total of 323 people have died, an increase of four since Friday.
The CDC did not report case numbers Saturday because the state lab that processes testing samples did not do so on Christmas Day and other labs that typically report to the CDC also did not do so. Whether the holiday closure is impacting the numbers was unclear Sunday.
When the lab closed for Thanksgiving, it skewed numbers the following weekend because fewer results were coming in from other labs in Maine and elsewhere in the United States. Robert Long, a spokesman for the Maine CDC, did not respond to an email inquiry Sunday as to whether the Christmas holiday is still impacting daily case counts.
The people whose deaths were reported Sunday include a woman in her 80s from York County, a man in his 90s from Cumberland County, a man in his 50s from Cumberland County and a woman in her 80s from Oxford County.
Currently there are 189 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, an increase of four people since Friday. Fifty-four people are in critical care and 17 are on a ventilator. There are 109 critical care beds available out of 377 total and 234 ventilators available out of a total of 318, not including 443 alternative ventilators. The seven-day average of daily new cases is at 448, an increase from 431 one week ago.
Cumberland County led the way in new cases reported Sunday with 138, bringing that county’s total number of confirmed and probable cases to 6,610 since the pandemic began. York County reported 100 new cases for a total of 4,400. The next highest number of new cases reported Sunday was in Kennebec County, where 21 new cases brought the county’s total to 1,611 to date.
Androscoggin County continues to have the highest case rate of Maine’s 16 counties with 227 cases per 10,000 residents.
The state is continuing to roll out vaccinations and will prioritize healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities with shipments expected to arrive this week. More than 17,000 people have been vaccinated as of Sunday. Volunteers are stepping in to help vaccinate front-line healthcare workers amid high demand for the vaccine and a process that’s more time-consuming and labor-intensive than some had anticipated.
Paramedics and EMT’s are also starting to receive the vaccine as part of the state’s push to get healthcare workers vaccinated first. On Saturday and Sunday the Portland Fire Department vaccinated 80 firefighters who are cross-trained as paramedics and EMT’s and who work providing emergency medical services. Another 80 first responders are scheduled for this week, said Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McGuire.
The department employs 207 firefighters, only four of whom are not certified in emergency medicine. The vaccine will be available for those four at a later date when the state expands availability beyond healthcare workers, McGuire said.
“This vaccine changes nothing for us in this moment,” McGuire said. “We made it clear our mask and travel policies are still in place. We don’t know what this will look like several weeks from now after the second dose. We’re assuming there’s no protection until after everyone has their second dose on board, but my hope is in four or five months if thousands of people get vaccinated we will see active cases go down and we can start thinking about changing policy. Personally, I will say there is some relief to see it’s here.”
Congress has overwhelmingly approved a $2.3 trillion spending package that includes $900 billion in pandemic relief, but the president has yet to sign the legislation. Millions of Americans are likely to see a lapse in unemployment benefits as the pandemic continues and relief for businesses, families and schools remains uncertain.
Nationwide there has been an average of 188,892 daily new cases per day over the last week, a decrease of nine percent from the average two weeks ago, according to the New York Times. Many states are improving in the number of new cases reported, but deaths continue to remain high. Maine is still doing well compared to other states in terms of average new cases per 100,000 people, but the state is also continuing to see its highest numbers of the pandemic.