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Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 18, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, February 18, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, February 18, 2021
COVID-19 variant tempers optimism
Second case identified in Maine

COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020
Click here to see the full COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020.

by Leslie Landrigan

Though fewer Mainers are getting sick with COVID-19 and more are getting vaccinated, health officials are keeping a wary eye on two cases of a COVID-19 variant in Franklin and York counties.

The good news is that the numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and cases are declining, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in a February 16 briefing. Additionally, a little over 13 percent of Mainers have gotten their first vaccine shot, he said.

The bad news, though, is that data shows the COVID-19 variant, first detected in the U.K., is more contagious and potentially more lethal than the common COVID-19 strain, Shah said.

“There are reasons for optimism but there are still reasons for concern,” Shah said. “It’s important that we don’t let our guard down.”

The two people who caught the new variant had been traveling, Shah said. They subsequently quarantined and apparently haven’t spread the disease to others, he said. Shah cautioned that COVID-19 first arrived in Maine as a few isolated cases, just like the variant cases in Franklin and York counties.

“We are replaying the same tape with this variant,” Shah said.

Vaccine

Forty-three percent of Mainers aged 70 and older have gotten their first dose of vaccine, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during the briefing.

People over 70 now have more options for getting vaccinated than they did a month ago. Last week, Walmart began vaccinating people throughout the state, including in Ellsworth. The Northern Light clinic at the Cross Center in Bangor now has plenty of appointments available, according to Anne Schroth, who helps people get scheduled for vaccines as program coordinator for Healthy Peninsula.

Still, Schroth said, a lot of her clients want to go to Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital, either because Bangor is too far or they’re not comfortable getting vaccinated by someone they don’t know at Walmart. But those appointments in Blue Hill can be hard to get, Schroth said in a phone interview.

“The level of anxiety is quite high,” she said. “Everyone has a different story.” She said one man swore to her that people 65 and older were eligible for the vaccine because he’d seen it on Facebook.

Lambrew said the state intends to make sure all the 70-plus year olds are vaccinated before the next group, people aged 65 to 69, can get their shots.