We wouldn’t generally encourage you to skip over big sections of articles in this, or any other, newspaper. But the first and last sentences of a story posted online Wednesday essentially tells you much of what you need to know about the struggle in Maine to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Bottom line: Get vaccinated.
“Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday that she is activating the Maine National Guard to provide staffing in hospitals and nursing homes and requesting federal help for two beleaguered hospitals amid a record COVID-19 surge,” the story, by reporter Caitlin Andrews, began.
“The extraordinary ramp-up comes as Maine’s hospital capacity is the lowest that it has been during the coronavirus pandemic, following months of record-setting COVID-19-related admissions and a surge in cases that shows no signs of letting up.”
As it was originally posted on Wednesday afternoon, the story ended with this: “But hospital leaders said they were running out of options on Wednesday and pleaded for unvaccinated members of the public to get shots, as the majority of COVID-19 related admissions are still those who are not fully vaccinated.”
In between, the article gave details of the problem — a record 379 people were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday, with about 80 percent of the state’s emergency beds currently occupied — and the governor’s action, which will allow up to 75 guard members to be used in non-clinical health care settings.
This is an extraordinary action: The governor is calling in National Guard personnel because Maine hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, many of whom are sick with an illness with risks that can be significantly minimized through vaccinations. Two thirds of those hospitalized with COVID-19 and more than three-quarters of those in intensive care units with the virus last week were not fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent study in California found that those who were unvaccinated were nearly 30 times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 as those who were fully vaccinated.
Staffing shortages at health care facilities, a long-term problem in Maine, have been exacerbated by a mandate from Mills that all health care personnel in the state be vaccinated against the virus. An estimated 800 hospital workers have left their jobs rather than get the inoculations. The state’s two largest hospital networks — Northern Light Health and MaineHealth — reported that 98 percent of their workers were vaccinated.
Still, it seems pretty clear that if more Mainers were vaccinated against COVID-19, fewer people would be hospitalized with the virus. These hospital stays often stretch for weeks, further straining hospital resources, especially in rural areas where vaccination rates are lower and hospitals are smaller.
“I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ensure care for all those who need it,” the governor said in announcing the activation. “I am grateful to the members of the Guard and to our heroic health care workers for their tireless efforts. Just as they are stepping up, so, too, must Maine people. For your health, for the health of an elderly person, for the health of a child, for our health care workers, for the National Guard, get vaccinated, please. It may save your life or someone else’s.”
Like the governor, we’ve said it many times before: Getting vaccinated will protect you, your family, friends and co-workers. And it will help Maine’s health care facilities, and their staffs, to address Maine’s many other health care needs.