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Health

Maine Is Racking Up New COVID-19 Cases Faster Than Authorities Can Perform Contact Tracing On Them

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Robert F. Bukaty
/
Associated Press
Pedestrians comply with Maine Gov. Janet Mills' executive order requiring Maine citizens to wear face coverings in public settings, regardless of the ability to maintain physical distance, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Nov. 16, 2020.

The Maine CDC announced on Monday that new cases of COVID-19 are outpacing the state’s ability to contact trace.

CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says the spike means that the state will no longer continue to stay in touch with people who test positive for the disease beyond their first contact with state investigators.

He says the change will allow investigators to focus on people who are tied to outbreaks.

“The virus is moving faster and spreading faster than the ability of states to train and deploy new public health investigators,” Shah says.

He says the state has increased its contact tracing workforce by 40 percent for a total of 142 employees over the past two weeks.

But positive cases have increased by 60 percent over roughly the same period.

As states prepare for the potential rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Shah says more federal funding will be needed to distribute it across the state.

The funding concern is shared by multiple public health directors across the U.S. who are already drafting plans to store, track and administer the vaccine when it becomes available.

“What is at stake here, and the reason we need the funding, is really to make sure we can vaccinate both with velocity, as well as to make sure we can vaccinate equitably,” Shah says.

Exactly what funding is needed could hinge on which vaccines are approved to by the Food and Drug Administration.

One vaccine from drug giant Pfizer requires ultracold storage, a requirement that could make it harder to distribute in rural areas.

Another vaccine from Moderna does not need that same level of freezing. Instead, it will require a robust staff of vaccinators and tracking systems for inventory and correct dosage.

States and territories have asked Congress for $8 billion for vaccine deployment.

The CDC reported 185 new cases Monday, as well as 103 current hospitalizations. Of those patients, 45 are in intensive care units and and 11 are on ventilators.

And one more person with COVID-19 has died, bringing the total number of deaths in Maine to 177.

Maine Public reporter Patty Wight contributed to this story.