State health officials on Tuesday reported 1,008 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period along with nine additional deaths from the viral disease.

The 1,008 cases reflect new infections that were reviewed by staff over the weekend and on Monday because the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not provide updated case data on Sundays and Mondays.

While Tuesday’s total represents the largest single-day tally, it also includes cases reported to the Maine CDC as far back as Sept. 17 because the agency has struggled to keep pace with the surge in test results requiring review. A Maine CDC spokesman did not respond to questions Tuesday about the size of the case backlog or the number of new positive tests results flowing into the state lab daily.

Maine’s seven-day average of new cases continues to climb, driven largely by new infections of the more contagious delta variant among unvaccinated people. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 523 on Tuesday, compared with 444 for the week ending Sept. 14 and weekly averages that were in the teens and twenties in early July, before the current surge.

Eight of the additional deaths announced Tuesday were identified as six men and two women residing in Cumberland, Oxford, Waldo and Penobscot counties. Penobscot County has consistently reported the highest number of new cases daily during the past week, and five of the nine deaths since the weekend occurred in that county. Two of the deceased were between 50 and 59, one was in their 60s, four were in their 70s and one was 80 or older, the Maine CDC said. Details about the ninth death were not available Tuesday.

With the nine additional deaths deaths reported Tuesday, Maine’s total COVID-related deaths rose to 1,022 for the pandemic. To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 88,197 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since March 2020.

OPTIMISM AND CONCERN

The agency has hired or redirected dozens of staffers to assist with reviewing the glut of positive test results – separating out new cases from repeat positives of known cases – as the delta variant spreads around the state. That backlog makes it more difficult to gauge where Maine stands amid the recent case surge. And available data offers reasons for both optimism and concern.

Maine has consistently had among the lowest COVID-19 case and death rates in the nation throughout the pandemic. Additionally, a higher percentage of Maine residents have been vaccinated during the past 10 months than all but a handful of states, which public health officials say has contained the spread of the delta variant.

According to statistics from the U.S. CDC, Maine’s seven-day case rate of 212.5 cases for every 100,000 residents places the state squarely in the middle of the pack nationwide. Alaska recorded the highest rate at 784.5 cases for every 100,000 residents, while Connecticut and California had the lowest rates of 68.1 and 42.2 cases per 100,000, respectively.

But Maine’s case rate is significantly higher than every other New England state and is higher than every other Northeastern and mid-Atlantic state except Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Maine’s seven-day positivity rate, which reflects the percentage of tests coming back as positive for the coronavirus, stood at 4.7 percent on Tuesday compared to 5.8 percent two weeks ago.

Hospitalizations were still high on Tuesday but could soon begin decreasing if Maine follows the national trend. There were 218 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide on Monday – down from 225 on Monday and a record of 235 on Saturday – while 67 people were in intensive care units and 34 were connected to ventilators. There were 50 available critical care beds on Tuesday out of 332 statewide.

Hospitalizations have started declining in many of the states that were hardest hit by the delta variant. After increasing for much of the summer, the seven-day average of daily new hospitalizations in the U.S. declined by 14.4 percent to 9,636 per day for the week of Sept. 8-14, according to the U.S. CDC. Case counts also declined 17 percent nationally over the past week.

PACE OF INOCULATIONS INCREASES

On the vaccination front, the pace of inoculations has increased in Maine, with health care providers or pharmacies averaging 2,000 to 3,000 shots a day for much of last week.

As of Tuesday, 73.5 percent of eligible Mainers had received either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, while 15,157 additional or booster doses had been administered in the state. Maine’s vaccination rate falls to 64.8 percent for the state’s entire population, which includes children under 12 who are not yet eligible for inoculation.

Last week, the U.S. CDC endorsed boosters, or third shots, of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals age 65 or older as well as younger individuals with underlying health conditions beginning six months after their second dose with the Pfizer vaccine. Additionally, the U.S. CDC said people at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus because of their jobs – such as health care workers, prison guards, grocery store employees, teachers and day care providers – could get booster shots six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Many health care providers and pharmacies in Maine already have started offering booster shots of Pfizer to eligible individuals.

On Tuesday, Northern Light Health began offering online scheduling of booster shots for eligible populations, with appointments available starting Thursday. Northern Light’s online scheduling system is available at covid.northernlighthealth.org. Individuals without internet access can call 207-204-8551 to make an appointment.

The state’s largest hospital and health care network, MaineHealth, also began offering booster shots to eligible individuals this week. Qualified patients can schedule an appointment by calling 877-780-7545.

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