Maine is near the top of the nation in a COVID-19 resurgence that comes as weather turns colder and the cold and flu season begins, even though the state boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S.
The Pine Tree State has the fourth-highest rate of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents of any U.S. state over the past week, according to the New York Times’ COVID data dashboard.
Maine is tied with New York at 20 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, compared with a national rate of 11 cases per 100,000.
The state has the third-highest rate of daily average hospitalizations at 222 per day, a seven percent increase from the previous two weeks. On Monday, Maine hospitals had 234 COVID patients, with 44 of them in critical care, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, Maine’s positive test rate is sixth-highest in the nation at 11 percent, tied with Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana, Tennessee, Indiana and Idaho.
Hospitalizations are a more reliable indicator of COVID’s spread because states’ reported test results don’t include the results of tests administered at home. However, the New York Times noted that positivity rates have been rising in recent days after falling throughout the summer, potentially pointing to a growing outbreak.
Piscataquis County reported the highest case rate among Maine counties in the past 30 days at 845 cases per 100,000 people, according to Maine CDC data.
One of Maine’s largest hospital systems, Northern Light Health, had 65 COVID patients across its 10-hospital network on Monday, up from 55 just a few days before on Thursday, according to Dr. James Jarvis, the senior physician executive for Northern Light’s COVID-19 response.
Jarvis said it was too early to predict whether it would become a trend, but hospitalizations and caseloads had been steadily “creeping up” for eight weeks.
The hospital system has begun admitting more patients for COVID symptoms, though more recently the patients have been younger than anticipated, with some as young as in their 20s, a departure from previous patients, who were mostly in their 50s and 60s, Jarvis said.
“That’s just kind of telling us that, ‘Maybe we’re seeing more community spread,’” he said. “That doesn’t bode well for us here in Maine for our long winter months.”
He urged people to remain vigilant about their health by washing their hands, staying home if they’re sick and wearing masks in indoor settings and in outdoor settings with large crowds.
Another Bangor doctor attributed the increased cases and hospitalizations to a combination of schools being back in session and cooler weather, but wasn’t sure why Maine was an outlier.
“It may be a surge,” Noah Nesin, the primary care innovation advisor for Penobscot Community Health Care, said. “It sure looks like one, but it will take a little more time to know.”
Eighty-two percent of Maine residents are fully vaccinated, making it one of the most vaccinated states in the country.