Maine CDC reports 14 more COVID-19 deaths, 1,359 new cases

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Jan. 15—The omicron surge continues in Maine and the death toll keeps growing.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,359 new cases and 14 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday. The state continues to see its highest caseload and death toll of the pandemic even as New England wastewater monitoring suggests numbers could drop in the near future.

The stress on medical resources remains high, with 418 people hospitalized across the state on Saturday, slightly lower than the pandemic record of of 436 patients on Thursday. However, these numbers are overwhelming hospitals, and are much higher last winter's hospitalization peak near 200.

Of the 418 patients sick with COVID-19, the state reported Saturday that 108 are in critical care, 57 on ventilators.

Like much of the nation, Maine is experiencing a surge of the highly-contagious omicron variant, which most often results in less severe cases but is still straining hospitals near the breaking point. In response, Gov. Janet Mills has called up the National Guard to aid medical facilities.

While the omicron variant often causes less severe cases, some infected people will get seriously ill. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has cautioned the public about taking the omicron surge lightly, particularly because of how much it's straining the health care system overall.

"Even if omicron were say 10 percent milder than delta but still 200 percent more contagious, the sum of that impact on our population is greater than its impact on any individual," Shah said.

On Friday the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended thtat better-fitting masks be worn to help prevent Americans from becoming infected with omicron. Because the variant spreads so easily, schools and businesses are having to reduce operations due to infected workers. Hospitals are also struggling with workers who are out with COVID-19, to the point that the Maine Army National Guard is deploying 169 Guard members to health care facilities across Maine.

While experts have long said that masks with multiple layers which fit snugly over the nose and face are better than the common, floppy masks, the national CDC on Friday revised its recommendations, pushing Americans to wear more protective masks.

According to the CDC, loosely woven cloth masks provide the least protection, layered finely woven masks offer more protection, but not as much as the well-fitting disposable surgical masks. The KN-95s offer even more protection, the CDC said, and the N-95s offer the highest level of protection.

"The trouble with omicron is it spreads real fast," Maine Medical Association President Dr. Jeffrey Barkin said. "That's why really good masking to block out those highly infectious virus particles is a good idea if you don't want to get sick." At a Portland vaccination site on Jan. 8, several getting booster shots said many people they know have been testing positive. "It seems like everyone has it right now," said Shayla Skinner of Portland.

In addition to getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots, the CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in public, indoor settings in places of high COVID-19 transmission, which includes Maine.

Because of the omicron surge, even in communities with high vaccination rates, mask mandates for indoor, public settings have been passed by municipal officials in Portland and Brunswick. Portland stores and businesses now post signs informing customers masks must be worn to enter buildings.

As in 2020 before vaccines were widely available, the Maine CDC continues to also recommend:

If symptomatic or in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, the Maine CDC recommends getting tested. To find testing sites, go to https://www.maine.gov/covid19/testing.

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