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3 things you need to know from the Maine CDC COVID-19 briefing on Oct. 6

CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew explained expanded testing, dropping hospitalizations, and using boosters for immunity.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew held their weekly media briefing on Wednesday to provide updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

EXPANDED TESTING OPTIONS

DHHS announced on September 30 increased access to COVID-19 testing for child care students and staff, as well as more options at retail pharmacies.

The new options allow child care facility owners to access pooled testing for students and staff. DHHS identified about 40 child care providers in underserved areas that are eligible. Both kids and staff can use these tests.

Staff can use those tests if they are experiencing mild symptoms, and fully vaccinated staff who have been identified as a close contact can also use them. If they test negative, they can keep working.

"We really do want to make sure we are giving our childcare providers the similar tools as we've been supporting schools with to keep kids safe," Lambrew said. "We're not going to stop there. We're going to take advantage of every opportunity that comes down the pike for Maine."

In addition, more Walgreens locations in Maine will offer PCR and rapid tests. Nearly all of its locations in Maine will have access as part of the federal Increasing Community Access to Testing Team program. This week, 16 pharmacies began offering PCR testing in addition to rapid testing, joining 19 locations that already provided both free testing options. An additional 28 sites will add PCR testing by mid-October.

Maine also continues to see increased use of pooled testing among schools. On Wednesday, the Maine Department of Education will begin publicly posting updated information on use of the program, along with school case and outbreak data. As of Wednesday, 476 schools, or 66 percent of those eligible, have enrolled in the pooled testing program, with approximately half already pool testing on a weekly basis. 

HOSPITALIZATIONS DROPPING

The number of Mainers in hospitals due to the virus is trending downward. 166 people in Maine are in hospitals now with the virus, down from 225 a week ago.

51 people are in the ICU now. Two weeks ago it was a record high of 88 people.

21 people are on a ventilator compared to 40 people two weeks ago.

Pediatric hospitalizations are also decreasing, Shah said.

Two children under age 18 are currently in hospitals with COVID-19. In the last 30 days, there were four. Cumulatively, 34 kids under age 18 have been hospitalized with the virus. Neither of the two kids currently hospitalized are in ICU, and in the past 30 days, there have been no ICU cases, Shah said. Cumulatively, nine children have been sent to the ICU.

MAXIMIZING IMMUNITY WITH BOOSTERS, NATURAL IMMUNITY

Lynne from Brunswick sent NEWS CENTER Maine a question, asking if a person who has been fully vaccinated catches COVID-19, when they should get a booster shot, and if the combination of vaccination and "natural immunity," (when someone recovers from COVID-19) makes their immune response better.

As for the combination of vaccination and natural immunity, the answer is yes, the person's immune response is stronger, Shah said. 

"That's why the CDC recommends that even those who had COVID do go ahead and get vaccinated. There's some early data to suggest that the combination of pre-existing immunity from having had COVID, plus the vaccine ,really turbocharges the body's immune system," Shah said.

As for when to get a booster if the person has become a "breakthrough case" (a fully vaccinated person who catches COVID-19), Shah said to still wait until you are eligible for the booster.

"Right now, that recommendation is for folks to get the booster six months after they got their second shot of -- right now it's just Pfizer -- but that may change in the near future -- with one important caveat: if you are actively recovering from COVID, if you're within that 10 days of your six months shot, you shouldn't be going outside anywhere. You should be at home in isolation so you don't get other people sick," he explained.