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Maine Health Officials Warn Of New Coronavirus Strain

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A patient at a mobile testing location for COVID-19, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Auburn, Maine.

Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah says it’s only a matter of time before a new strain of the coronavirus will appear in the state.

Shah says the new strain appears to be more contagious and that Mainers should double down on precautions.

“That means that if you’re exposed, your risk of becoming infected is higher with this new strain then as it was with previous strains,” he says.

Shah also says that the vaccines already being distributed appear to be as effective against the new strain as they are against the original.

The new strain was first reported in the United Kingdom and so far been reported by health officials in Florida, California, Colorado and New York.

While more contagious, it is believed to be no more deadly than the original virus.

And Shah says the Maine CDC is keeping close tabs on an increase in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in Aroostook County.

According to state data, Aroostook County has recorded more than 730 cases since the pandemic arrived in Maine — well below some of the more populated counties in the state. But the same data show more than a third of the county’s total cases have been reported since the Christmas holiday.

Shah says his staff has been asked to closely monitor cases in the region.

“So that if we detect outbreaks we can attempt to intervene upon them as quickly as possible so that they do not get out of control,” he says.

The hospitalization rate in Aroostook County is 5.5%, a full percentage point above the state average.

An outbreak at Northern Light Hospital in Presque Isle is among the the outbreaks the CDC is monitoring.

Shah’s comments come as his agency reports another 376 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. The numbers have hovered under 400 new cases a day since a spike in those numbers last week.

Another person has died. The pandemic’s death toll has reached 360 for the state. Almost 26,000 Mainers have been diagnosed with the disease as of Monday morning.

Aproximately 33,000 Mainers have received the coronavirus vaccine.