Wastewater samples and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 suggest Maine could be facing another winter surge of the virus.
Wastewater from Piscataquis, Cumberland and Kennebec counties tested this month has the highest COVID-19 concentrations since January, according to Biobot, which tests and analyzes wastewater for public health purposes.
Wastewater in Penobscot and Hancock County, meanwhile, has the highest COVID-19 levels this month since October and December 2022, respectively, Biobot reported.
Wastewater testing is considered one of the most accurate markers of COVID-19 prevalence in the state because it takes into account people who test positive and are recovering at home.
The increase in COVID-19 cases is occurring in tandem with a surge of other seasonal illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and the flu. This is leading to an increase in hospitalizations which is putting a strain on medical facilities that have historically struggled to find beds for everyone who needs care.
Although cases and hospitalizations are not yet as high as they were this time last year, Dr. James Jarvis, physician in charge of Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 response, said that he remained concerned about the rise because it mimicked what doctors last saw. year.
Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor is at or near capacity every day, Jarvis said.
Statewide, 93 Mainers were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday — the most since April 2023. Of those, 14 were in intensive care and four were on a ventilator, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 cases in Maine are likely increasing due to several factors, such as people not receiving the most recent vaccine booster that protects against the JN.1 variant that is gaining dominance.
The JN.1 variant appears to be more contagious than variants that circulated over the summer, but causes less severe illness, Jarvis said.
“We need to see more people getting vaccinated, especially people over 65.
and who have underlying health conditions that predispose them to more serious illness,” Jarvis said.
It’s common for Maine to experience a surge of COVID-19 cases after other parts of the country see infection levels rise and spread the disease to the Northeast, Jarvis said. This happens when people travel for the holiday season and when students return home for winter break.
“This is something we see every year with the flu, but now we have COVID-19 – yet another respiratory virus that we have to worry about,” Jarvis said.
Although doctors don’t yet know for sure whether COVID-19 cases will increase each winter, as RSV and flu cases typically do, Jarvis said they have seen cases in Maine increase over the past two winters. and decrease during the summer.
Jarvis recommends that all Mainers receive the latest COVID-19 vaccine and the new RSV vaccine to reduce the risk of contracting the illnesses, as well as wear a mask in crowded indoor environments or avoid them altogether.
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