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A window sign at Portland's Elm Street bus staion reminds customers to wear a mask on Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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With attention last week focused on the election and its outcome, it may have been easy to forget the daily toll of the COVID pandemic. But, sadly, the virus is still with us, and still sickening and killing a staggering number of people each day.

On Nov. 1, the number of deaths from COVID surpassed 5 million globally. The U.S., Europe, Britain and Brazil, countries that are not among the world’s poorest, account for nearly half of all COVID deaths, according to the Associated Press. Deaths from COVID in the U.S. have exceeded 750,000. About half the deaths have come since vaccines against the virus became available.

Even though COVID has a higher death toll in many resource-rich countries, where people generally live longer and can receive treatment for chronic illnesses, the virus has especially hit poor and minority neighborhoods. In the U.S., for example, COVID cases and deaths have been higher among Black and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to live in poverty and to lack access to health care.

At the end of last week, Maine’s seven-day average for new coronavirus cases was 503, up from nearly 470 a week prior, but down from 589 a month ago.

According to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 215 people were hospitalized in Maine with COVID as of Monday, with 76 in critical care and 33 on a ventilator. The number of Mainers who are hospitalized and in the ICU for COVID treatment are little changed from last week. There was a considerable decline in patients on a ventilator.

Another perspective of the ongoing seriousness of the pandemic comes from LifeFlight of Maine, a non-profit jointly operated by Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare that transports patients to hospitals throughout Maine as well as to hospitals out of state when even more specialized care is needed.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t think anyone in critical care medicine has,” the group’s executive director Thomas Judge recently told the Bangor Daily News. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen the pace of this.”

Over the last weekend in October, 11 of the 18 patients the service transported who had tested positive for COVID-19, were in respiratory failure or had COVID-19 symptoms. Worse, with hospitals’ capacity stretched, the organization’s helicopters have occasionally been prepared to take off with a patient in need only to find out that a hospital bed is no longer available.

Most of the COVID patients LifeFlight transports are unvaccinated, Judge said.

Although Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, the rates vary by region. And, generally, higher COVID case rates are found in areas with low vaccination rates.

For example, Somerset County has the state’s lowest percentage of eligible residents who are vaccinated. It also has the highest rate of new COVID cases for the past two weeks.

The good news is that vaccination rates are on the rise in Maine, and young children just became eligible for the shots last week.

Last week, Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine CDC, noted that vaccination rates in Maine had nearly doubled in two weeks. COVID-19 vaccination rates increased 97 percent in Maine over the past 2 weeks, Shah said on Twitter on Nov. 1. Over the past seven days, an average of 1,800 new inoculations have been given daily in Maine. That’s the highest rate since June. The number of second doses and booster shots are also on the rise.

Amid the good news, Judge of LifeFlight still sees cause for concern as temperatures drop and people gather inside, especially during the holiday season.

“We’re worried it’s going to be a very tough winter,” he said. His message — and that from other medical professionals — remains the same: Get vaccinated if you can; wear a mask indoors; keep your distance; and wash our hands.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...