'This is a crisis that's preventable,' Mills says in plea to Mainers to get vaccinated

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Sep. 23—Gov. Janet Mills made an impassioned plea to Mainers on Wednesday to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the number of people hospitalized with the disease smashed records for the fourth-straight day.

"The vast majority of those people hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated," Mills said at a media briefing. "Many of those people are the ones who said to themselves, 'It can't happen here, it can't happen to me.' And now, their families, too, wished they had listened to medical advice and simply gotten the shot."

On Wednesday, a record 226 individuals were hospitalized with COVID in Maine hospitals, 88 of whom were in critical care and 40 of them were on a ventilator.

"Truly, there is no downside," to getting vaccinated, Mills said. "Only a benefit — a benefit to you, to your family, to all of our children and to people you may never have met. This is a crisis that's preventable."

Mills called on health care workers and educators to get their shots, saying that it's important to protect the most vulnerable.

"Of course, health care facilities are not the only place that care for our most vulnerable. Our public schools are directly responsible for the safety of Maine children, thousands of them, many of them not old enough to be eligible to be vaccinated yet," she said.

"We owe something to them, too," she said. "We owe a duty of protection and care to those kids."

There were 14 inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston as of Tuesday, according to the hospital. Five of the patients were in the intensive care unit, including two on a ventilator. Providers there cared for an average of 13 patients per day during the seven-day period ending Tuesday.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention called Wednesday's hospitalization numbers "a sad and dark record."

He said it continues to be the case that about 65% to 75% of all hospitalized individuals at any given time are unvaccinated.

"ICUs are different, though," he said. "What we're finding in the ICUs is that on any given day, any given week, 90-plus percent of those in the ICU are not vaccinated."

Maine reported 614 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including 32 cases in Androscoggin County, eight in Franklin County and 38 in Oxford County.

A resident of Androscoggin County was among the five additional deaths reported Wednesday. Four of those deaths were the result of the Maine CDC's periodic review of death certificates. Those deaths occurred between Sept. 7 and 12.

Maine has recorded 1,007 lives lost to COVID since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Though Maine's vaccination rate is one of the highest in the country — 65% of all Mainers and nearly 74% of residents eligible to receive a shot are fully vaccinated — "clusters of folks who are not yet vaccinated" are driving cases and high rates of community transmission, Shah said.

"For me, when I look at the numbers on a daily basis and talk with our teams every single day, what's at stake is — with the current numbers and the trajectory that we're on — is nothing short of people's lives," Shah said.

"We've reported deaths over the past few days at levels that we haven't really seen since December, January, at a time when vaccinations were nascent," he said.

Vaccination rates among eligible residents in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties are among some of the lowest in the state.

Of eligible residents — those 12 years and older — about 67% of Androscoggin County residents, 62% of Franklin County residents and 63% of Oxford County residents have completed their inoculation series.

From Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, there were 28 ZIP codes in Maine out of the 397 in the state that recorded 20 or more new cases.

Among those were Lewiston and Auburn, which recorded 30 and 27 new cases, respectively.

By most metrics, Lewiston in particular has been and continues to be a hot spot.

Lewiston has the fourth highest positivity rate of any ZIP code in the state. As of Sept. 12, the city recorded 903.7 cases per 10,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic.

Sanford, in York County, had the highest positivity rate, followed by Mechanic Falls and Lisbon, both in Androscoggin County.

But in terms of the number of cases of all time, Lewiston takes the top place, with 3,352 cumulative cases. And as of Sept. 17, it has the highest number of estimated residents unvaccinated.

An estimated 7,580 residents there have yet to get their shots, according to the latest vaccination rates by ZIP code from the Maine CDC. Nearly 80% of all residents are fully vaccinated. Orono has the next-greatest number of unvaccinated residents at 4,316.

There are 15 ZIP codes in the state that have more than 2,000 residents remaining unvaccinated. In the tri-county area and in addition to Lewiston, those ZIP codes include Auburn, 3,439 unvaccinated; Farmington, 2,451 unvaccinated; and Sabattus, 2,029 unvaccinated.

The Maine CDC considers ZIP codes with more than 2,000 residents unvaccinated and/or a vaccination rate under 60% as areas of concern.

"Generally speaking, one of the things that's driving cases in Maine are clusters of folks who are not yet vaccinated," Shah said. "That's where we're starting to see or have been seeing a lot of the transmission that's generating hospitalizations, intensive care unit stays and sadly, deaths."

Mills added that "people need to get vaccinated so that we can keep our schools open."

"What's at stake here is child care, children's education and their well-being," she said.

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