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No cases of omicron have been confirmed in Maine. But Dr. Shah says it's likely here

Nirav Shah
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
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.

Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah believes the COVID variant omicron is in Maine and he's asking residents to get vaccinated and boosted to improve their odds of fighting the disease should they contract it.

"Though we have not confirmed omicron in Maine, we believe it's here. We are actively looking for it," Shah said. "So the Maine CDC is acting as if it is here and we are asking Maine people to do the same."

Health officials say data on omicron suggest it is more contagious, and will require a booster to get the strongest protection against it. The state says just under 40% of Maine residents over 18 have received booster shots.

Shah said, "The thing that's growing important with each new fact about omicron is the importance of getting a booster. Boosters were important before, they're more important now. Having a booster restores the performance of the vaccine to a strong level."

Maine's rural counties continue to report high case counts of COVID-19. Recent ramped up vaccination efforts in Machias and Aroostook County have attracted many residents, Shah said, but access to shots remains an issue for many Mainers.

Maine's rural county vaccination rates fall between 59% and 65%, compared to the statewide average of 75%. Shah says the state will continue to plan vaccination clinics at various rural locations, as he says they are better attended than ongoing clinics in the state's cities.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jean Lambrew said at today's CDC briefing that the state has no plans to reinstate mask mandates and other restrictions in the wake of omicron's arrival.