3 experts say what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like in Maine in 2022
After a year of roller coasters, the COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc in Maine and the route it will take from here is uncertain.
The first half of this year has been marked by hope for emerging COVID-19 vaccines. High cases last winter slowed to a relative pace in the summer, when Maine lifted the last remaining trade restrictions. The most contagious delta variant then dominated cases, fueling a surge that has persisted since late summer. Maine is entering the new year with near record levels of cases and hospitalizations as the new omicron variant takes hold.
The Bangor Daily News spoke with three experts to get a feel for what next year could bring. While they expressed hope for vaccines that could further curb the spread of the virus, they saw an ongoing risk in unvaccinated people that could heighten the state’s response.
Here’s what Mainers can expect from the pandemic next year.
Early vaccine acceptance has protected Maine from early flare-ups, and treatments for the virus will increase them in 2022.
As the virus became increasingly contagious, Maine saw a groundbreaking increase in the number of cases among those vaccinated during 2021. Omicron is expected to lead to much more, although the emerging consensus is that cases caused by the new variant are more benign. Vaccines are still widely effective in preventing serious illness and death.
That’s why every health expert who spoke to the BDN agreed that they are a game-changer during the pandemic and that they will continue to do so in the future. Another bright spot is the advent of more drugs that can treat severe symptoms of COVID-19.
The importance of vaccines was highlighted when the delta variant became prevalent in Maine, pushing more cases and largely unvaccinated people to hospitals, said Charles Pattavina, an emergency physician at St. Joseph of Bangor. The effect of vaccination is evident in the differences between case rates in Cumberland County – the most vaccinated in Maine – and its more rural areas.
The arrival of omicron could make matters worse, Pattavina worries, with the effects expected to be felt by January. Although cases generally appear mild, the transmissibility of omicron could increase cases to the point that hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 cases, he said.
The pressure will be more on the private sector because Maine is avoiding mandates.
State officials are not interested in returning the restrictions that marked the first year and a half of the pandemic, such as masking requirements, capacity limits for domestic businesses and the like. They said the best way to end the pandemic was to encourage vaccinations.
Mills pushed this message the hardest through her controversial tenure for health care workers, although she said little about a broader private sector demand from President Joe Biden for employers over 100 employees that will take effect for now after passing the ping-pong to court.
Any further increase in the number of cases could spark a debate in health circles over whether the state should do more as communities like Boston, Washington, DC and New York put in place mitigation efforts. of the pandemic. Last week, the Maine Medical Association imposed the liability on companies, recommending that they require indoor masks for customers and employees.
The association had discussed whether to push Mills to reinstate a mask requirement, said Dr Lani Graham, who sits on the association’s public health committee and is a former director of the public health agency of the Maine. While there have been concerns over whether the backlash against such a provision would do more harm than good, there are still divisions on this issue.
“When you look at other public health interventions, it’s only when we’re aggressive enough with the demands that we get it right,” she said.
While the trajectory of the pandemic remains uncertain, hospitals have become the canary of the coal mine.
The record numbers of cases reported by the Maine CDC are disheartening, but they are quickly becoming a less useful measure as the rise continues due to the continued spread of the community in all 16 counties, overdue testing and the struggle of state to process all tests. they get it in a timely manner.
Hospitalizations will increasingly become a better indicator of whether people are experiencing more severe cases. Graham said that while much about omicron is uncertain, it will quickly become clear how many people need a high level of care, regardless of their vaccination status.
“We are now coming to a time when people vaccinated with boosters may not be protected,” she said.
Hospitals were near full capacity in recent weeks before COVID-19 inpatients plummeted around Christmas, but any sustained stress on hospitals will continue to trickle down to the rest of a healthcare system that suffers from a shortage of workforce at all levels. Levels of persistent severe cases will continue to make it difficult to find solutions.
“Hospitals have never had this volume of capacity, and you can’t just suddenly increase it,” said Patty Hamilton, director of public health for Bangor.