Maine has cleared a backlog of unprocessed COVID-19 tests that has skewed the state’s official case count for months.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it has finished processing positive tests that overwhelmed the agency in December and January and in recent weeks made the state’s case count appear artificially high. That means case counts going forward are expected to better reflect current pandemic conditions, although the state’s numbers still do not include people who use at-home tests or who are infected but never get tested.

The state reported two additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday and added 565 cases in the state’s first update in three days. Because the Maine CDC does not report new cases over the weekend, Tuesday’s report includes cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 231,285 cases of COVID-19, and 2,138 deaths.

The backlog of positive tests had swelled to nearly 60,000 in February because state health officials could not keep up with the flood of infections during the omicron variant wave. A new system installed in mid-February partially automates the process, making it easier for the health agency to work through the backlog and keep up if there’s another surge.

“Last week, Maine CDC cleared the case processing backlog caused by the omicron surge,” said Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, in an email response to questions.


The number of positive tests submitted to the state also has plummeted, from more than 3,000 a day in mid January to about 250 a day in the past week. Not all positive tests are counted as confirmed new cases.

Amanda Lachance hands off a rapid COVID-19 test to Laura Coroi for processing at Yarmouth Public Works last month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Also on Tuesday, the federal government’s distribution of the anti-viral medication Paxlovid to states hit its highest level yet. Unlike most other post-infection treatments, which are expensive and involve time-consuming infusions, Paxlovid is a pill and if taken immediately can reduce the risk of hospitalization by 90 percent.

Paxlovid is a new COVID-19 medication that could become a powerful tool in controlling the virus, along with vaccines that prevent most severe COVID cases.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address last week, touted the medication, and said Paxlovid would eventually be available at pharmacies at no cost immediately after a positive test result. The drug is most effective when taken as soon as possible after testing positive.

Paxlovid distribution is ramping up on a national level, from about 100,000 courses in January to 175,000 this week. The bulk of the medication is being allotted to states based on population. Maine’s allotment this week is 420 courses, down from 520 the last shipment during the last week of February, but up from 340 sent during the first week of February.

Amelia Arnold, immediate past president of the Maine Pharmacy Association, said Paxlovid supplies are not yet plentiful enough to meet President Biden’s vision of easy, free access, but the overall supply increase is a “good stepping off point.”


“This is really good news because supplies have been so limited for so long,” said Arnold, pharmacy operations manager at Community Pharmacies, a Maine-based independent chain.

Arnold said aside from supply limitations, other obstacles remaining before people can receive pills immediately after a positive test include letting pharmacists, not just doctors, prescribe Paxlovid, and expanding testing so that most or all pharmacies can do COVID tests.

Until supplies increase further in Maine, Paxlovid is being used to treat people with high-risk conditions who test positive for COVID.

Long said Paxlovid supplies are shipped to the state CDC, which then distributes them to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics.

“We expect these supplies to increase in coming weeks in Maine as in other states,” Long said.

Maine’s COVID-19 hospitalizations numbered 143 Tuesday, up from 142 the day before.

Hospitalizations are now at similar levels as late last summer, when the delta variant started to take hold in Maine. And the number has plummeted 67 percent from the 436 recorded on Jan. 13, the peak of the omicron wave in Maine. On Tuesday, 30 patients were listed in critical care and 10 were on ventilators.

All Maine counties are now designated as moderate risk by the U.S. CDC, according to an update posted Thursday. Most remaining mask mandates are on their way out as pandemic conditions improve.

Wastewater testing continues to show a decline of virus prevalence in most cities and towns conducting the testing, including in Bangor, Portland, York and Presque Isle.

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