ELLSWORTH — It’s Thanksgiving week, and AAA is predicting travel numbers will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels — all while the state experiences a surge of COVID-19 that has shattered previous records.
On Nov. 18, AAA released its travel estimates for the Thanksgiving holiday, with a prediction of 53.4 million travelers, a figure that comes within 5 percent of 2019’s pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, cases of COVID-19 continue to surge statewide, and last week were approximately four times higher than last year’s case count at the same time. On Sunday, the state reached a new high for hospitalizations during the pandemic. The Portland Press Herald reported there were 287 patients admitted with the virus, including 80 in critical care and 30 on ventilators.
At the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Nov. 17 briefing, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah spoke of the state’s bleak figures and how vaccination against COVID-19 is the best mitigation tool against the virus.
Between last year and this year, “Things are bad. We’ve broken a ton of records,” Shah said. “But what differs now … we’ve got vaccines that are resoundingly effective.”
Because of this, he said the risk of catching and suffering from the coronavirus has become somewhat elective.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state is working with hospitals on adapting capacity models so that hospitals are staffed and can provide critical care.
Additionally, Shah gave tips for what families could do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at holiday gatherings.
He said if gatherings are entirely comprised of people who are fully vaccinated, “That gathering can occur in relative safety.”
“But most gatherings will not be that way,” he said, noting many will be “hybrid” and include individuals with varying vaccination statuses.
He suggested that Mainers have “tough” conversations with loved ones and ask those who are not vaccinated to start the vaccination process before gathering.
Shah also suggested friends and family members take a rapid antigen test before jumping in the car to head to a gathering and do the bulk of that gathering outside around a fire where there is as much ventilation as possible. When inside, Shah suggested opening windows.
“Though no one likes to do it, wearing a mask might make sense,” he said.
“COVID looms large,” Shah said, adding that traditional aspects of holiday gatherings — being inside, close together, for an extended amount of time — are risk factors for spreading the virus.