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Some COVID-19 numbers are trending downward in Maine, but Dr. Shah warns cases could still plateau

Nirav Shah
Robert F. Bukaty
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference Monday, March 16, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

There have been a couple positive trends in Maine's COVID-19 numbers in the last week, but Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah says it's unclear to what extent they will continue.

There are 192 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, down from a pandemic high of 214 two weeks ago.

And the portion of recent PCR coronavirus tests coming back positive in the last week has declined to 4.3%. It was 4.75% one week ago and 5.5% in early September.

Shah addressed some of the improving numbers during an interview with Maine Calling on Monday.

"Will Maine go the way of Iceland, where cases spiked and then rapidly came down? Or will Maine go the way of, say, the United Kingdom, where cases also spiked, came down, but remained at a very high plateau? That's the question on the table," he said.

Shah says in Iceland, vaccination is evenly distributed throughout the population. But the vaccination patterns in Maine are more similar to those in the UK, where there are pockets of low vaccination rates which generate cases and outbreaks.

The state did see its highest ever bump in newly reported infections last week, breaking a single-day record just last Thursday when it added 925.

Many of those positive results were actually reported within the previous week because the state is working through a backlog of results. The daily caseloads started to dip at the very end of last week, but on Saturday, the seven-day average of new infections also reached one of its highest points during the pandemic: 611.

The latest surge of the virus has been driven by the highly contagious delta variant, and it has sent a disproportionate number of unvaccinated Mainers to the hospital.

During the Maine Calling interview, Shah also dispelled the notion that vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19 just as easily as unvaccinated people. Shah says the vaccinated can, on occasion, get breakthrough infections.

"But what happens many, many fold more commonly is that unvaccinated people have the virus, get sick from the virus, and transmit the virus," he said.

The state CDC has reported about 4,100 breakthrough infections out of the more than 55,000 cases that have been reported since Mainers started being fully vaccinated.