ELLSWORTH — Sixty-nine new cases of COVID-19 were recorded for Hancock County Nov. 3, the county’s highest single-day tally of the entire pandemic, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The Maine CDC also reported Nov. 4 four COVID-related deaths. None of those deaths were in Hancock County. There have been 50 COVID-19 deaths reported for Hancock County since the beginning of the pandemic and 81 hospitalizations.
Since the initial emergency approval for vaccines against the coronavirus was issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Maine has had a relatively high vaccination rate. Just over 70 percent of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated.
So, what is causing this spike in cases?
“Community transmission is causing increased daily case counts,” said Robert Long, the Maine CDC’s director of communication. He said neither an increase in pooled testing nor backlogs of test results are the reason for the increase in detected cases.
“Pooled testing detects transmission which is already present,” Long said. “The Maine CDC lab is not experiencing delays in processing tests.”
Kelley Columber, the communications director for Northern Light Maine Coast and Blue Hill hospitals, said the increase in cases is likely to continue.
“COVID-19 transmission rates across the state of Maine continue to be high and Hancock County is no exception,” she said in a statement. “While Northern Light Health is not the only testing facility in Hancock County, and because of that, we cannot speak to these specific cases, we know that current predictive models show the number of COVID-19 cases rising across the state for the next 14 days as more activities move inside.”
Ellsworth resident and School Board member Elizabeth Alteri and her family can attest to the fact that COVID-19 is in the community.
Alteri, her husband, Philip, and their three children all tested positive for COVID-19, although Alteri is uncertain where the family contracted the virus.
“We really don’t go anywhere,” she said. “We spend a lot of time at home.”
While the children do attend school in person (when they aren’t under quarantine), the family participates in social distancing measures, such as contactless food pickups.
Alteri and her husband are vaccinated against the coronavirus, as is their 12-year-old son, Lucas. Up until federal regulators’ recent decision to approve the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, the Alteris’ middle and youngest children were not eligible to be vaccinated.
As far as symptoms, “I’ve had the whole run of them,” said Alteri, who has been in regular contact with the CDC. Those symptoms include fevers, chills, sore throat, body aches and a “major, massive headache.” She has also lost her sense of taste and smell, calling it “one of the strangest things I have ever experienced.”
Symptoms have ranged throughout the household, with her husband experiencing “the full gambit, too” (although he did not lose his sense of smell and taste).
Lucas, the first to test positive, only had a runny nose. Nine-year-old Jackson “didn’t have a single symptom” and 5-year-old Gabby experienced a runny nose, headache and loss of smell.
Alteri worries that her asymptomatic son could have passed the virus along to his grandmother, who has underlying health conditions.
All three children participate in the pooled testing program at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School, which is how Lucas’s case was detected.
Alteri noted she has spoken to the school’s nurse so that her children will stay enrolled in the program but won’t be tested for a few months so that they don’t potentially skew the school’s testing results.
“This is no joke,” Alteri stressed, calling the virus worse than the cold or flu.
Even though she and her family still contracted the virus, Alteri said, “I’m still really, really glad that we had the vaccine. I would hate to imagine what it would look like if we hadn’t.”
Based on her symptoms, she thought that if she and her husband had not been vaccinated, they may have ended up hospitalized.
“And then what would have happened to our kids?” she said.
Alteri noted that she had major surgery shortly before testing positive, which she said could have affected the intensity of her symptoms.
As the family finishes up their stints in quarantine, Alteri said the kids still had a happy Halloween, thanks to the generosity of the community.
“Our community is incredible,” she said. “I think the kids made out better this Halloween than they ever had.”
The family put on “reverse trick-or-treating,” where friends and neighbors visited outside the house and dropped off candy to the kids, who still donned their costumes. Others brought groceries and activities like cookie decorating kits.
“It was really, really heartwarming,” Alteri said.
On Nov. 4, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a Senate Health Committee hearing. Collins asked why Maine, a highly vaccinated state, is seeing a surge in cases.
“Can you explain to me why a state that has done a terrific job in getting people vaccinated is seeing this surge in cases that is overwhelming our hospitals and causing great fear, and pain and loss?” she asked.
Dr. Fauci attributed Maine’s caseload to infections among the unvaccinated as well as breakthrough cases among Mainers who are vaccinated.
He noted, “I think there were probably confounding multiple factors going into the difficult situation that your citizens in your state are going through, but there’s no doubt that the vaccines are clearly much better in the sense of protecting you from infection, hospitalizations, or death compared to the unvaccinated.”