Maine health officials reported 698 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and three more deaths as the state continues to see a sustained high rate of infections that experts say is driven largely by unvaccinated people.
The seven-day daily case average has hovered at about 500 cases for much of the last month. Across the country, meanwhile, cases steadily declined in September and October, before leveling off in the past week.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 107, 772 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 1,207 peopled have died with the virus, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 212 individuals with COVID-19 in Maine hospitals on Saturday, including 72 in critical care and 33 on ventilators. The number of people hospitalized in Maine remains at a sustained high level even as hospitalizations have come down nationally. The majority of those in Maine hospitals are unvaccinated.
Health care systems in Maine have postponed certain surgical procedures because COVID-19 patients are straining capacity. A staffing shortage in nursing homes is also contributing to the pressure on hospitals because patients are forced to stay hospitalized longer while waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility.
As for vaccinations, the pace has picked up in recent weeks and elementary-age children began getting shots last week. School clinics are expected to begin vaccinating pupils this week.
Maine’s vaccination rate is about 71 percent, the fourth-highest in the country behind Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the Bloomberg News Vaccine Tracker.
Overall, Maine has given 945,975 final doses of vaccine, which accounts for 70.37 percent of all residents.
In addition to final doses, Maine has administered 115,409 booster doses.
According to data updated every Friday by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated people have contracted COVID-19 at much higher rates, accounting for 86 percent of all COVID-19 cases since vaccinations became widely available this spring.
Maine had the 18th-highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the nation Friday, with 35 cases per 100,000 population on a seven-day rolling average, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. The national average is 22 cases per 100,000. New Hampshire and Vermont also have infection rates well above the national average.
Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, has said in recent weeks that the uneven vaccination rates in parts of Maine are a contributing factor, leaving pockets of unvaccinated people to spread the disease. He has also said the state’s previous low case counts are among the reasons the delta variant surge has been sustained in Maine while subsiding in other parts of the country.
The much more contagious delta variant is burning through unvaccinated populations, he has said, and Maine’s low case counts during much of the pandemic means that unvaccinated populations had little natural immunity to COVID-19 when the delta variant hit.