Maine reported another 778 cases of coronavirus as the number of patients on ventilators reached a new record high Wednesday.
Forty-two people in Maine hospitals are breathing with the assistance of ventilators, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which surpasses the previous high of 40 people on Monday.
The state also reported seven new deaths, bringing the total number of people who have died over the course of the pandemic to 976. In total there have been 81,955 cases.
The seven-day average of daily new cases is 450.6, which is up from 359 one week ago and 173.7 one month ago. The rise in cases has prompted the Maine CDC to resume weekly media briefings with its director, Dr. Nirav Shah, who is expected to give an update on the state of the virus at 2 p.m.
The latest numbers come as the more contagious delta variant surges among the unvaccinated in Maine and nationwide. The burden of the disease is also shifting toward younger people as children under 12 remain ineligible for vaccines and are returning to school and more congregate settings.
Twenty-nine percent of the cases reported Wednesday were in people under age 20 and another 16 percent were among people in their 20s. People in their 70s and older, who represent the most vaccinated population in Maine, made up just six percent of the new cases Wednesday.
The most recent numbers classify every county in Maine with the exception of Sagadahoc as having high transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calculates transmission levels based on new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days or test positivity rates, whichever is higher. Waldo County currently has the worst transmission levels. The 223 cases reported there in the last seven days mean the county has a case rate of 561.5 per 100,000 people. Sagadahoc County, where transmission is substantial, has a seven-day case rate of 97.6 per 100,000 people.
The Maine CDC over the last few weeks has needed to clear backlogs from weekend cases because there have been so many positive test results coming in. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if the new daily numbers represent cases from one 24-hour period or are partly the result of a backlog.
Maine’s education commissioner told lawmakers Tuesday schools were feeling overwhelmed by the number of cases they’re seeing in the first few weeks, but the state continues to believe in-person learning can occur safely as long as health protocols such as universal indoor masking and vaccines for all who are eligible are in place.
“Unfortunately, we had this very extraordinary, unanticipated spike in COVID collide with the very opening days of school,” Pender Makin said. “I think you’re going to see a readjustment and people are going to settle into realizing we are living with COVID for a while. It’s not a thing where we’re going to walk away and say, ‘Mission accomplished.’ We need to learn how to reasonably live in an environment where a pretty dangerous, often deadly disease is out there in our midst.”
Maine continues to have high rates of hospitalizations, and on Monday broke a record of the number of people needing mechanical ventilators to breathe, with 40 people in Maine hospitals on ventilators. On Wednesday 192 people in Maine were hospitalized, including 70 in critical care and 42 on ventilators. There are 194 remaining available ventilators, out of a total of 294, in the state and 55 remaining critical care beds out of 332 total.
Nearly all patients in critical care, and 70 to 75 percent of all hospitalized patients, have not been vaccinated, the Maine CDC has said.
Statewide 64 percent of people are fully vaccinated. That number rises to 72.9 percent for the 12 and up population eligible for vaccines.
Nationally, the summer surge appears to be leveling off although coronavirus deaths are continuing to rise. The seven day average of daily new cases around the country was 152,177 on Wednesday, which is down slightly from an average of 152,393 one week ago, according to the New York Times.
Maine’s infection rate rose to 33 cases per 100,000 residents, second highest in New England after Rhode Island. But the state is still below the national infection rate of 46 cases per 100,000 people because of even more severe surges in many southern states.
This story will be updated.