ELLSWORTH — Two patients admitted to Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital with COVID-19 were among the 46 total COVID-19 patients in Northern Light hospitals statewide early this week. The hospital would not release information on the Ellsworth patients’ ages or conditions, but officials did say that neither were on ventilators.
And while there were no COVID-19 patients at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital on Monday, positivity rates throughout Maine are on the rise.
“As we started school last year, the positivity rate was one-half of 1 percent,” Dr. James Jarvis, Northern Light’s physician leader for the COVID-19 pandemic, said at an Aug. 23 media briefing.
A year ago at this time, Maine was reporting some of its lowest positive case rates of the pandemic. Northern Light Health Systems reports an average 14-day positivity rate of 7.19 percent, and a seven-day rate of 7.78 percent, while Maine CDC reports a 3.6 percent positivity rate for Hancock County over the last 14 days.
“These numbers are far larger than we saw before,” Jarvis said of the current spike in positive cases, noting anecdotally that positive cases are appearing more in rural areas than in urban ones. He also said that there have been positive cases reported among people under 18 in Maine. The positivity rate is the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests out of all tests administered.
Jarvis and Northern Light Senior Vice President Paul Bolan spoke to the media hours after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The approval came nearly nine months after the FDA authorized the vaccine for emergency use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Full FDA approval was a condition for many vaccine requirements issued by public and private organizations alike and more are expected to follow. The approval hopefully will result in a higher rate of vaccination, both men said.
On Aug. 12, Maine announced that health-care workers would be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 1. Jarvis said that over 84 percent of Northern Light employees already are.
“More are being vaccinated every day,” he said. “We are seeing positive movement as far as vaccine hesitancy.”
The health-care system reported a “small number” of employees gave notice rather than get vaccinated, just as when the flu vaccine became an employment requirement.
The availability of hospital beds, intensive care units and ventilators is still intact, Jarvis said, even though the pandemic “is taxing our system.” However, if COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise, hospitals would have to consider delaying other procedures.
The full FDA approval is for people ages 16 and above. The vaccine remains available under emergency use authorization to children ages 12-15. Children under 12 will likely wait until mid-winter for emergency use approval, Jarvis said, although it could come as early as November.
The Maine CDC is recommending all people wear masks in indoor settings where there is substantial transmission of COVID-19. Hancock County currently has substantial transmission of the coronavirus.
The level of protection among a group of people in an enclosed indoor space drops if “even one person” is not masked, Jarvis said. “We know now that masks not only protect other people but also protects the mask wearer. We know it is two-way protection.”