December 7 saw the highest single-day increase in Maine since the beginning of the pandemic, with no slowdown in sight
The suffering of Maine’s residents as a result of COVID-19 has reached new heights, with the state recording 427 new cases of the virus on December 7 – by far the highest single-day increase since the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020. During the first week of December, 33 additional people died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total known death toll to 227 individuals. On December 7, 170 people were in the hospital. Of those, 52 were in intensive care, and 17 were breathing with the help of a ventilator.
The Maine CDC now has 135 people conducting case investigations and contact tracing. Over 30 new case investigators and 50 new contact tracers are in training and expected to become active in the next month. These additional hires represent an attempt to keep up with the alarming increase in case numbers. Since December 5 alone, nine new outbreak investigations have been opened, and the majority are in schools.
Maine’s current hope of slowing the rapid escalation of cases rests on the public’s closely following a variety of measures recommended by the Maine CDC, including wearing masks whenever outside the home (the masks must cover nose and mouth), staying home whenever possible, refraining from social gatherings both inside and outside the home, and isolating when indicated. During the Thanksgiving holiday, huge numbers of people nationwide disregarded safety guidelines and gathered with extended family and friends. The fear is that the state will see a repeat during the upcoming Hannukah and Christmas holiday season. Social gatherings are closely linked to spread of the virus.
Data shows that community transmission is high in all counties in Maine. On December 7, Androscoggin County had the highest transmission rate, with 163.1 cases per 10K people. In Androscoggin County, 798 people in Lewiston and 366 people in Auburn had contracted the virus by November 29, the most recent data available on the Maine CDC site. In Cumberland County, with 145.4 cases per 10K people, 413 individuals had tested positive for the virus in Portland, and 388 in Westbrook. In York County, with 131.0 cases per 10K, there were 144 known cases in York and 106 in Alfred. These numbers mean that even though the virus is invisible, it is spreading rapidly throughout the state. Even in Aroostook County, a very rural, sparsely populated county, Holton, Caribou, and Fort Kent have registered a clear uptick in cases.
“If you test positive for Covid-19, immediately isolate. If you test positive, think about people you’ve come in close contact with,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In other words, because of the surge in numbers, do not wait for a call from the Maine CDC, which can no longer get to everyone who tests positive in a timely manner. Isolate immediately. The Maine CDC website now posts this warning: If you test positive, please isolate immediately. Do not wait for a call from Maine CDC to isolate. You should stay in isolation until you meet the criteria to leave.
In June, following pressure from the New Mainers Working Group, which formed in March in response to the pandemic’s anticipated disproportionate impact on communities of color, the State contracted with 27 community-based organizations throughout Maine to support individuals from immigrant and minority groups who need help isolating. At present, approximately 15% of Maine’s cases are among the state’s non-white population, which accounts for 7% of the total population. Catholic Charities of Maine Refugee and Immigration Services coordinates the support program. Support is available in areas such as providing culturally appropriate food, income and rent support, access to proper quarantining, psychosocial support, and personal protective equipment. For asssistance please call Charles Mugabe at (207)523-2768 or send an email to [email protected]
All presidents of African associations in Maine are in close contact with their communities. From the beginning of the pandemic they have urged compliance with the Governor’s orders regarding the virus, and have provided material support to enable people to stay out of harm’s way. “We have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic that people should follow the CDC and State guidelines. I’m going to ask all Mainers to please follow the Governor’s instructions about wearing masks, travel, and gathering, so that you protect yourselves, your families and friends, and the whole community,” said President Papy Bongibo of the Congolese Community of Maine. John Ochira, President of the South Sudanese Community of Maine, added, “The more disciplined we are about following safety precautions, the more likely we are to defeat the virus and enjoy freedom.”
Not all the news about COVID-19 in Maine is bad. In fact, some is very good. Vaccines to immunize Mainers against the virus will be given to front-line healthcare workers first, within a few weeks, followed by residents of long-term care facilities. Those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are expected to be next in line. The Maine CDC and health care facilities have been planning for efficient distribution of the vaccine for months, and Dr. Shah is confident that the vaccine is safe.
Note: Feature image by AART! (Artists’ Rapid Response Team), a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists | Photo by Joseph Shaw