Maine saw the most dramatic one-day jump in new COVID-19 cases on Friday as part of a surge that epidemiologists have attributed in part to holiday gatherings and a state effort to process a large backlog of tests.
The state reported 2,148 new cases on Friday, nearly 700 more cases than the previous record only set on Thursday. It comes as the state has seen 10,364 new cases reported from Nov. 25 to Dec. 9, nearly 3 times more cases reported at the same time last year. A record 375 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, with many Maine hospitals virtually full.
“It’s deja vu all over again,” said Dr. Peter Millard, a former epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointing to similar case spikes seen last year around gathering. “It’s not where we want to be going into 2022, you know?”
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah cautioned the public from reading too much into day-to-day case totals in a Wednesday news conference, saying the agency’s disease surveillance team is seeing more tests come in than the current staff can handle and it is working to increase the number of staff dedicated to processing tests.
On Friday, Shah said 79 percent of the 2,148 new cases reported had come in days before but could not be processed until the last 24 hours. The remainder were new tests processed on Thursday. The state is also reviewing death certificates from last month, which Shah said will likely result in a spike in reported COVID-19 deaths soon.
Friday’s reported case count is nearly four times higher than the counts that Maine was seeing last year around the same time with virus-slowing restrictions like mask mandates and indoor business capacity restrictions, and before vaccines were even available to the public.
Thanksgiving gatherings are likely contributing to high case and test counts, Millard said, with overburdened hospitals, delays in testing caused by staffing shortages in pharmacies and the popularity of at-home tests, putting the state in a worse position to handle the surge, he said.
The increase should drive people to be more cautious during the holidays, limiting the number of people they interact with and masking up whenever possible, said Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University. He also urged vaccines for kids, another factor he saw contributing to the current surge. In Maine, COVID-19 in children drove November’s case spike.
Hospitalizations lag behind reported cases. Hospitals have sounded the alarm consistently over the last few months about the toll COVID-19 is taking on their workforce and ability to provide care, as most patients hospitalized are not fully vaccinated.
Two hospitals requested federal aid to supplement their workforce, and Maine Medical Center in Portland is expecting to see 14 temporary workers arrive this week. The situation became dire enough this week that Gov. Janet Mills activated the Maine National Guard to provide support to hospitals and nursing homes in an attempt to free up beds. Along with other public health officials, she urged people to get vaccinated to slow the spread in lieu of bringing back pandemic restrictions.
“If everybody does their part, we’re going to level this thing off and address it as a team,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck right now.”
BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.