BAR HARBOR — Last year as the winter months approached the number of COVID-19 cases started to wane. With positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths at near-record highs, what is driving the continued surge?
“Right now, we are seeing a series of micro-outbreaks,” said Dr. J. R. Krevans, an internal medicine specialist at MDI Hospital, who went on to say such outbreaks wouldn’t be noticeable on their own, but they are driving community spread. “This year, with schools fully reopened, COVID-19 is spreading among families and workplaces,” explained Krevans, and then to other members of the community.
Last Friday, school administrators were forced to close the Connors Emerson School due to cases of COVID-19 among its staff and students. The week before, a number of restaurants on the island’s so-called quiet side closed for multiple days while staff members were tested after exposure.
In Maine, roughly 70 percent of the population, or about 949,000 residents, have been fully vaccinated. While the number of vaccinated residents continues to climb, there are still many people who remain unvaccinated. Couple that with the fact that Maine was one of the least infected states going into the Delta variant-fueled wave, it presents the opportunity for the virus to spread to those without immunity. “As long as we have a population of unvaccinated individuals, there will be spread as well as accelerated transmission that feeds back into the community,” Krevans said.
What is different this winter, as opposed to last, said Krevans, is the lack of precautions that people are implementing to stay safe: masking, remaining socially distant and embracing outdoor gatherings despite the temperature.
“If everybody wants to eat in a restaurant then they need to wear a mask in the hardware store,” said Krevans, noting that those precautionary measures are key to keeping the virus at bay and slowing the overall transmission.
Third doses and boosters
Who should get a booster and how is that different from a third dose?
Third doses of MRNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) are “desperately needed,” especially for the immunocompromised. “We have been giving those for a while now,” said Krevans, adding that the data show the need to give this population an additional dose.
Booster shots are also being recommended for those 65 years or older, those with underlying health conditions or whose occupation puts them at a higher risk. Krevans said that booster shots may not make much of a difference in the younger, healthier population.