AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's public health leaders addressed the state's COVID response on Wednesday as the omicron variant became more widespread across the state.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Northern Light Health announced expanded testing options, as well as which masks are best against the omicron variant, and discussed rapid at-home tests.
New testing site at Augusta Armory
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah announced that the Augusta Armory, which currently operates as a COVID vaccination site, will also offer drive-thru COVID testing appointments.
Shah said the site would offer appointments beginning Monday, and that people could find more information about signing up for an appointment on the state's website.
He said the site will offer tests on the days it does not offer vaccines.
As for any potential federally-sponsored testing sites coming to Maine, Shah said he and his colleagues told the federal government Maine needs more testing sites and offered locations where they could put one up. He said they are waiting to hear back.
"It really is a big need. Let's be straight about that. Testing is a need in Maine and across the country. The ball is back in their court right now, so we're waiting to hear if those requests will be approved, and if so, when and for what duration," Shah said.
"Confirmatory tests" discouraged after at-home tests
MaineHealth and Shah reminded people they should not go to emergency departments, walk-in clinics, or health centers to get a "confirmatory" PCR test.
MaineHealth said it was noticing a trend of people who used at-home rapid antigen tests then coming to its facilities asking for a PCR test to confirm whether the result from the rapid test was accurate.
Shah said at-home rapid antigen tests are reliable, especially if a person is exhibiting symptoms.
"Here is the bottom line there: If you have symptoms of COVID, and you take an at-home test, and it comes back positive, you do not need to seek confirmation of that result from a healthcare provider anywhere," Shah said. "You should take that result to the bank and start making sure you are isolating, staying home, wearing a mask, [and] preventing others from being infected."
If you get a positive viral test—regardless of if you have symptoms—you should isolate in your home for at least five days, regardless of your vaccination status.
After that, you should wear a mask in public for at least another five days to prevent spreading the virus.
Booster shots for ages 12-15
Those moves include:
- Expanding the use of a single booster dose to include use in individuals 12 through 15 years of age.
- Shortening the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine and a booster dose to at least five months.
- Allowing for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children ages five through 11.
"Maine Immunization Program COVID vaccine providers may begin administering boosters to this age group immediately. The U.S. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet on Wednesday, Jan 5th to discuss clinical recommendations of boosters in this age group."
The CDC's advisory committee approved the boosters for that age group Wednesday afternoon.
Choosing the right mask
Maine's public health officials are urging people to use higher-strength masks to protect themselves against the more contagious omicron variant of COVID.
They said not all masks are created equal.
Doctors at Northern Light Health said any mask is better than no mask at all. The next step up would be a cloth mask, but doctors say those are less protective than surgical masks, which are designed to prevent droplets from escaping or coming in.
A KN-95 mask is on the higher end of protection.
"In an ideal world, surgical mask for everyone over the cloth mask is even better than just anything else. But if cloth masks are all the individual has, that's still way better than no masking at all," Dr. Gavin Ducker said.
"Where I was really focused on is moving away from the neck gators, handkerchiefs, and toward either a multiply cloth mask or even better, one of the standard surgical masks," Shah said.
Doctors said these principles apply to masks for kids, too.