“Surge on prime of surge” forces Maine CDC to curtail COVID-19 investigations

ELLSWORTH – Recent updates from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services highlight the rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. While the CDC in Maine was expecting a positive case surge after Thanksgiving, the surge goes beyond current human and funding resources to investigate and conduct contact tracing for any positive cases, said Executive Director Dr. Nirav Shah on Monday.

The Maine CDC reviews each positive case to make sure it hasn’t been reported more than once, and also looks for two lab reports from a lab and an individual’s doctor.

“The number of reports we received has exceeded our ability to conduct this review process on a daily basis,” said Shah. “We thought we could keep up, but an increase on top of an increase we saw last week called the process into question.” There is currently no backlog of positive tests pending review, he added.

In response to the surge in cases, the Maine CDC has changed the way it will conduct its investigations “to focus on the most vulnerable and most vulnerable,” Shah said. “These discussions and decisions have been extremely difficult, uncomfortable and necessary in this time of unprecedented growth.”

He compared the Maine CDC’s current situation to “a very busy, overcrowded emergency room.”

“We need to use our available resources to ensure we are serving those most in need in their greatest moment of need,” said Shah. “These decisions are difficult.”

People with positive test cases from the following groups who are at high risk of COVID-19 or the transmission of the virus will continue to trigger investigations: People under the age of 18; People 65 and older; First aiders and healthcare workers; Individuals admitted to hospital are from a population group diagnosed with high-stress illness or disability in Maine; People who live in shared flats such as nursing homes and prisons, or people who are associated with schools or day-care centers.

Case investigations and contact tracing are two sides of the same coin, Shah explained. Case researchers ask where someone might have contracted COVID-19 while contact tracing attempts to determine who the infected person might have administered the disease to through accidental exposure.

Now anyone who gets a positive COVID-19 test will be notified by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Maine, which provides assistance throughout the isolation process. However, it is the person’s responsibility to notify anyone they have recently contacted. That person should then be quarantined for 10 days. The quarantine time has been reduced from 14 days in accordance with new federal CDC guidelines.

“If you test positive before hearing from anyone, think about the people you’ve come into close contact with and notify them as soon as possible,” said Shah.

Maine isn’t the only one undoing case investigations and contact tracing for people from high-risk groups. Shah said several states had already started what Maine is doing now and “we had a chance to discuss with them how they made similar changes.”

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew noted that with most broadcasts in private households “it is ultimately beyond the reach of the state government for each of us to protect ourselves and our families”.

Shah also reported that the National Guard will continue to have a role to play in the pandemic through March 2021, and the Maine CDC is working with pharmacists, primary care providers and emergency medical services clinicians to evaluate how they can be used in the vaccination process. The final number of vaccinations Maine will initially receive has not yet been finalized, Shah said, but the 12,000 currently on the table are “far fewer than Maine requires,” he noted on Dec. 4.

Shah and Lambrew hold a public live streaming briefing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2 p.m. www.maine.gov/covid19/cdc-livestream and recorded for later viewing.

News reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. If you don’t sign up, find their local hiking trails, read on, or watch some professional tennis. Anne loves tips and ideas for public stories. Email them at [email protected] or call them at 667-2576.

Anne Berleant

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