ELLSWORTH — With Thanksgiving gatherings next week set to bring more people together, daily COVID-19 case counts continue to rise across the state.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Nov. 16 that its seven-day positivity rate — the percentage of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that come back positive — is 8.5, up from 6.9 when the CDC gave its Nov. 10 briefing.
It is the highest rate the state has seen throughout the pandemic, according to a report by Maine Public.
At the Nov. 10 briefing, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah delved into the question that many are asking: how does a state among those leading the nation in vaccinations (about 71 percent of the entire state is fully vaccinated) also see the “highest, sustained daily case rates that we’ve seen since January, perhaps since the entire pandemic began”?
Shah said multiple factors have come together to explain what is happening.
Despite the state’s relatively high vaccination rate, “For epidemiological purposes, what matters is simply not the overall percentage … it’s where those folks are,” Shah said.
He said the vaccination rate is not evenly spread among Maine’s 16 counties, with some counties reporting vaccination rates that are comparatively higher than others.
“In those areas with lower rates, the virus has room to run,” he said, adding the difference between counties with lower rates and those with higher ones is about 17 to 20 percentage points.
“In epidemiological terms, that’s significant.”
Shah explained that some counties with low vaccination rates, such as certain rural communities, initially had lower rates of infection, which led to lower immunity levels.
The combination of lower immunity levels, whether that was from vaccine-derived or viral-derived immunity, and the more transmissible Delta variant, is contributing to the recent surge.
The Maine CDC expects case counts to remain high.
“For how long they remain high is fundamentally up to all of us,” Shah said.
Other factors behind the surge include climate — the colder temperatures forcing people to gather indoors and the cooler, drier air that makes it easier for the virus to spread and enter the body. Also, children.
“Children, in particular, are driving transmission as well as case rates,” Shah said, adding that as children continue to get vaccinated following the emergency approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, more “barriers” will be developed to help stop transmission.
He said the surge in cases does not undermine the efficacy of vaccines against COVID-19.
“Ninety-nine percent of all fully vaccinated people in Maine have not gotten COVID,” he reported.
COVID-related deaths have occurred locally recently, according to obituaries published in The American Nov. 18. Lynne Rae West, 71, of Steuben, died Nov. 8 and Keith DeShong, 68, of Hancock, died Nov. 9.