The number of cases of COVID-19 in Lincoln County residents continues to rise steadily, with 29 new cases in the past week, down from the second-highest weekly increase of 41 last week.
According to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data current as of Tuesday, Jan. 5, since COVID-19 arrived in Lincoln County in mid-March, 325 residents have had the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus — 293 confirmed cases and 32 probable.
Lincoln County has the second-lowest total case count and the second-lowest case rate in the state, after Piscataquis County, at 94.6 per 10,000 people.
Because new positive COVID-19 tests are being received at a faster rate than the state agency is able to review them, the Maine CDC website says that “reported case numbers do not currently reflect the total number of people in Maine who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
“At this time, the total number of cases of COVID-19 in Maine is higher than the case numbers shown here,” the website says.
After accounting for 146 “completed isolations” and two deaths of Lincoln County residents, the number of apparent active cases is 177, up from 150 last week, although this may not directly reflect the actual number of people currently sick with COVID-19.
The Maine CDC has recently updated its nomenclature to refer to recoveries as “completed isolations.” There have only been four completed isolations identified since Dec. 8, which reflects the current backlog and shifting prioritization of contact tracing by the state public health agency.
The agency’s website says that since Nov. 25, it has not been able to follow up on every identified case of COVID-19, therefore, the number of “completed isolations” is no longer being updated.
Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine CDC, has said by email that the agency doesn’t use the term “active cases,” but refers to any cases that are not a completed isolation or a death as “other cases.” He said the term “active cases” has a different epidemiological meaning.
One more resident of Lincoln County was hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past week, for a total of 13 hospitalizations.
The Maine CDC’s ZIP code data shows that Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Damariscotta, Dresden, Jefferson, Newcastle, New Harbor, Nobleboro, and Wiscasset saw new COVID-19 cases in the past week.
Boothbay increased from seven to eight cases this week and Boothbay Harbor from nine to 10.
Damariscotta is up to 25 from 20; Dresden jumped from one to five to six to 19; Jefferson is up three cases to 20; Newcastle moved into the 20-49 case range; New Harbor saw its first case or cases of COVID-19; Nobleboro moved into the range of six to 19; and Wiscasset jumped from 35 to 43 cases.
No other counts have changed from last week.
The Maine CDC lists Waldoboro at 20-49 cases and Whitefield at 39.
Bristol, Bremen, Edgecomb, and Walpole stayed at six to 19.
Alna, East Boothbay, Pemaquid, Round Pond, South Bristol, and Southport all stayed in the range of one to five.
The Maine CDC does not list any cases in Trevett.
As vaccinations for the coronavirus continue for health care workers and long-term care residents and a new, more contagious variant of the virus has emerged elsewhere in the U.S. and in other countries around the globe, the Maine CDC and LincolnHealth have been urging vigilance.
“The new strain does not appear to change the course of illness or make people (sicker), however its ability to spread is significantly increased. It has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare systems even more than it is now,” Catherine Cavanaugh, an infectious disease specialist at LincolnHealth, said by email. “With that in mind we need to continue to mask up, maintain distance and don’t congregate with people who are not in your pod.”
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a press briefing on Monday, Jan. 4 that that the new strain is concerning, suggesting it could superimpose a surge on top of a surge of new cases of COVID-19.
“But the tools that we have used so far — face masks and physical distancing — are just as effective at preventing infection by this new strain. And given how much more quickly it seems to spread, those tools are more important now than they’ve ever been. No virus can make you sick if it can’t get to you in the first place,” Shah said.
John Martins, spokesperson for LincolnHealth, said by email that the first weeks of the hospital’s vaccination campaign have been going well. He said 490 patient-facing staff members have been vaccinated and soon non-patient-facing support staff will have the opportunity to get the first dose of Moderna’s vaccine.
“We are also in the process of inviting community healthcare providers in practices not affiliated with LincolnHealth to be vaccinated,” Martins wrote.
Vaccination clinics are also ongoing at Cove’s Edge and St. Andrews Village in Boothbay Harbor, with residents and staff there being inoculated.
Martins said it is important for people to understand that large-scale public vaccination is months away and everyone must continue to take precautions against the spread of the virus.
Shah has also been urging vigilance on the part of Maine citizens, saying that the less prevalent COVID-19 is in a community, the more effective the vaccination effort will be.
“The more we can do to limit transmission now, the more effective our ongoing vaccination effort will be,” Shah said. “By limiting nonessential interactions, wearing masks in public, staying at least 6 feet apart, and washing hands frequently, we help keep the virus away from vulnerable people until they can be vaccinated.”
In all of 2020, starting in March, LincolnHealth tested 11,817 individuals for COVID-19 with 202 positives, for a positivity rate of 1.71%.
The state-sponsored “swab-and-send” clinic performed 50 tests in the past week with no results yet reported.
The swab-and-send site offers drive-up testing by appointment from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday and Thursday. To make an appointment, call the clinic at 563-4353.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, as of Wednesday, Jan. 6, Maine’s seven-day average positivity rate is 7.8%, up from 6.4% last week, and has been steadily rising since November.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nationwide positivity rate for “week 52,” ending Dec. 26, increased from 12.1% to 12.4%.
State COVID-19 numbers
According to data current as of Tuesday, the Maine CDC has reported 27,090 COVID-19 cases in Maine, an increase of 3,641 from the week before. Of those cases, 4,296 are probable.
There have been 1,124 hospitalizations and 11,607 people have completed isolation. There have been 372 deaths so far from COVID-19 in Maine, including 38 in the last week. The statewide case rate is 202.4 per 10,000 people, up from 175.6 last week.
The number of active or “other” cases, 15,111, is an increase of 3,272 from a week before.