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3 things you need to know from the Maine CDC COVID-19 briefing

During Wednesday's briefing, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah covered topics including booster shots and vaccinated people's risk of spreading the delta variant.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine CDC COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday covered several topics including, booster shots, vaccinated people spreading the delta variant, and more.

COVID-19 TESTING

More people are getting tested for the virus. Maine CDC Director Dr. Shah said this is important because it gives us a fuller and clearer picture of the spread of the virus in Maine as close to in "real-time" as possible.

Northern Light Health's Dr. James Jarvis said in a separate briefing that they are processing more than 1,400 tests a day. Jarvis said that number is near their record high.

Statewide, Shah said testing has gone up 19%, and that the PCR positivity rate has gone down to 4.6% from more than 6% two weeks ago.

Although the increased testing provides a better picture of the virus' spread, those trying to get test results for travel or events may see delays in getting results, Jarvis said.

"Unfortunately, due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant, our demand is very, very high, and continues to be high," said Dr. Jarvis.

"Rest assured, we recognize fully that testing is a challenge. I know our team is again really focused on Washington, Aroostook, and Somerset to make community-level testing a lot more available," Dr. Shah said, hinting at a more widespread testing program in the works.

HEALTHCARE WORKER VACCINE MANDATE

Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Northern Light Health said during Wednesday's briefing that 92.9% of staff were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as the October 1 deadline for all healthcare staff to get the shot approaches.

He said 89 staff members had quit over the flu or COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and that they are working with other staff who have questions to address them.

A MaineHealth spokesperson said 93% of its staff is fully vaccinated.

VACCINATED PEOPLE CAN CARRY DELTA VARIANT

Dr. Nirav Shah addressed concerns about vaccinated people carrying COVID-19 in their nose and mouth, specifically the delta variant.

The delta variant carries a heavier viral load, and because it replicates so ferociously, it is possible for people who are fully vaccinated to harbor it, even if they have no symptoms, according to Dr. Shah.

Some people are asking why a vaccinated person is not also required to provide a negative test result, too when trying to get into a place like a music venue.

Shah said that testing is not necessary because of how rare it is for a fully vaccinated person to harbor the virus and transmit it.

"Reason number one is that it's statistically, so less likely to happen in a vaccinated person," Shah said. "The second reason is that a number of papers now have shown that even when there is detectable levels of virus in the, in the passages of someone who is vaccinated, the likelihood that that degree of virus exists in enough concentration in a vaccinated person is exceedingly rare, it's not zero, but it occurs so rarely as to not really make that frequent testing needed for vaccinated folks."

BOOSTER SHOTS

Only certain people -- mostly seniors -- are currently eligible to get a Pfizer booster.

There is not enough data yet to know if mixing and matching an initial vaccine series of Moderna or Johnson and Johnson with a Pfizer booster is safe or effective, Shah said.

He said just because a person is eligible for a booster, does not mean the shot that person got was ineffective.

He said waning immunity, which is common in many vaccines, combined with the highly contagious delta variant, are leading to the recommendations for boosters.

"That being said, although the vaccines remain effective because we know the passage of time plus the delta variant may impact for some categories of people the overall effectiveness, boosters are being recommended," Shah said.

Shah said all the FDA and CDC-approved COVID-19 shots are still effective against the worst that the virus can present, such as hospitalization and death.

He advises people to get their flu shot at the same time as their booster.