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At least 26 long-term care facilities have COVID outbreaks in Maine

An employee works in the coronavirus unit at the Durgin Pines nursing home in Kittery in fall 2020.
Jabbar Fazeli
via BDN
An employee works in the coronavirus unit at the Durgin Pines nursing home in Kittery in fall 2020.

COVID-19 continues to be a top concern for Maine’s nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The state CDC reports twenty-six long-term care facilities now have open outbreaks of the disease, which it classifies as five or more cases detected over two weeks.

A spokesman for the Maine CDC, Robert Long, was not able to provide a list of the affected facilities on Friday, but the Morning Sentinel reported that one of them is Woodlands Senior Living in Waterville.

Throughout the pandemic, health officials have sought to prevent or contain coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care facilities, given that their residents tend to be older and more vulnerable to serious illness.

In an email, Long said that coronavirus vaccines “have significantly lowered risk of hospitalization and death with COVID” in nursing homes. In general, the response to outbreaks now focuses on controlling further infection and ensuring testing is available.

“None of these outbreaks poses an elevated public risk,” Long said.

Roughly 200 new COVID cases are now being reported in Maine every day, but it has gotten harder to track the full spread of the disease because infections are being confirmed through at-home tests, or aren’t even noticed because people don’t develop symptoms.

However, there has been an uptick in the number of Mainers hospitalized with COVID. After reaching a recent low last April, when just over 100 people were admitted with the disease, that number has topped 150 in recent weeks and stood at 175 on Friday.

The number of seriously sick COVID patients may be higher than is reflected in that number, since more long-term care facilities are now treating serious cases themselves, according to Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, a nursing home doctor and spokesman for the Maine Medical Directors Association.

In general, Fazeli says it’s gotten harder for long-term facilities to avoid COVID at this point in the pandemic.

“COVID is everywhere, and I’m almost certain that the majority of facilities have COVID one way or another at any time, right now, just between staff, visitors and patients,” he says.

While vaccines and treatments have made it easier for nursing homes to respond to outbreaks, Fazeli noted that the omicron variant spreads more easily. He also said that it’s gotten harder to attract new workers to long-term care facilities, which could make it harder to respond if COVID cases surge this fall.

Fazeli is discouraged that just 59% of fully vaccinated Mainers have gone on to get a COVID booster, and he hopes that more people will get their shots this fall.