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'Things are bad,' Shah says: 3 things to know from Maine's COVID briefing, Nov. 17, 2021

Maine CDC and DHHS leaders talked about record-high positive tests and hospitalizations, booster vaccines for all adults, and Thanksgiving safety.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's public health leaders on Wednesday discussed record-breaking numbers of surging COVID cases and hospitalizations as reasons to expand booster shots to all adults effective Wednesday.

RECORD-BREAKING NUMBERS

Maine posted three record-highs Wednesday:

  • 1,042 more people tested positive for the virus Tuesday
  • 280 people with COVID are in Maine hospitals
  • The two-week PCR positivity rate is 8.9%

"Things are bad," Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a weekly press briefing. "The situation that we are in, and the risk that people face, is on some level an elective risk. You need not put yourself and your family at risk for COVID. If you are deeply concerned about ending up in a hospital, ending up in an ICU bed, ending up on a ventilator, you have a tool now that we did not have a year ago, and those are the vaccines."

Androscoggin, Oxford, and Somerset counties lead the state in case rates. They are also three of the five least vaccinated counties in Maine.

BOOSTERS FOR ALL ADULTS

Maine joined five other states in announcing that it would make booster shots of the vaccine available to all adults immediately regardless of health status. Gov. Janet Mills made the move Wednesday.

Shah said part of that move is due to the records Maine is setting, the spread of the virus, and hoping to clear up any confusion about who is eligible.

Shah said he hopes opening up boosters to all adults will give a spike in immunity for those who got their shots at least six months ago.

"Because we vaccinated a lot of people, and we did so early on, the potential for some drop in effect may be more pronounced here in Maine than perhaps in other states. That's where boosters come in. That's not unique to the COVID vaccines. That happens with many vaccines," Shah said.

People who got Pfizer or Moderna's shot can get a booster six months from their final dose.

Those who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine can get a booster two months after the shot.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved mixing and matching brands of boosters regardless of the first brand of shot a person got.

PLANNING A SAFE THANKSGIVING

The Maine CDC encourages everyone gathering for Thanksgiving to be vaccinated.

If kids under age five, who cannot get the shot, will be there, or people with underlying health conditions attend, Shah said everyone should wear a mask. They should either celebrate outside or get adequate ventilation. The virus spreads rapidly in indoor gatherings.

"COVID looms large. COVID takes advantage of the very things that we do when we get together to celebrate: being together for extended periods of time, lingering over the dinner table, talking, singing, arguing about politics, all of the things that make holidays memorable," he said.

He encourages people to have the "hard talk" with friends and family who are hesitant to get the shot.

He said at a bare minimum, hosts should ask all guests to provide a negative test result before coming over.

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