Maine reports 27 new deaths due to COVID-19
Maine reports 27 new deaths due to COVID-19

Maine reports 27 new deaths due to COVID-19

Maine reported 27 more deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, adding 3,754 more confirmed cases as health officials work to clear up a backlog of positive tests submitted in recent weeks.

The high number of deaths is likely include deaths from a periodic review of death certificates stretching back weeks or months. And Maine is using a new partially automated system to sort through a backlog of positive tests that once stood at nearly 60,000 but are now more than 30,000 positive results. The system eliminates duplicate cases and takes other steps to come up with a confirmed case count. Before the process was partially automated, staff at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention were overwhelmed by cases during the omicron wave and could not process them quickly enough to prevent the backlog.

While the new automated process, which started this week, is now catching up, the daily number of cases is no longer a reflection of current pandemic trends. Even without a backlog, the widespread use of home tests not included in the official census means confirmed cases can no longer be used to monitor pandemic conditions.

All other polls suggest the pandemic is improving in Maine, with communities like Portland, Bath and Freeport complete their indoor mesh mandates this week. Two others, South Portland and Brunswick, will consider their indoor mask mandates next week.

The Catholic Diocese of Portland is making masks optional at its eight schools from March 7th. Many public schools are awaiting a Maine CDC recommendation on when masks should be optional. The state now recommends wearing masks in schools, and most districts have mandated.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in a media briefing on Wednesday that the time to recommend making masks optional in schools may come soon as long as trends remain on track. Shah said they are looking at revisiting masks in schools after the February break.

“The trends are encouraging and favorable, but what we are looking for now is continued stability,” Shah said.

Other New England states have already set dates for masking to be optional in schools, including Feb. 28 in Massachusetts, Connecticut and in Vermont with schools having 80 percent or higher vaccination rates. Rhode Island set March 4 for masks to become optional in schools, while New Hampshire, like Maine, has not yet set a date. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island had nationwide mandates in place for indoor masking in schools, while Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire come up with recommendations for schools on masking.

The American CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also said this week that updated recommendations on masking are likely to come soon, but she did not set a timeline. National news reports suggested the new guidelines would be announced next week.

Meanwhile, hospital admissions had not yet been updated Friday, but the number of COVID-19 patients at Maine hospitals fell to 247 on Thursday, the lowest number since Nov. 13 and a 39 percent drop in just the last month. Of those admitted, 63 are in critical care, the lowest number since mid-October. The high grade for intensive care patients was 133 on December 19th.

This story will be updated.

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