Community members can help mitigate the impact of a sharp increase in cases that is further straining the health care system’s resources. Find information on MaineHealth’s vaccination clinics at https://www.vaccine.mainehealth.org
MaineHealth has seen a sharp increase in recent days in the number of care team members out with COVID-19. The surge is likely caused by the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant in Maine and New Hampshire; 842 members of MaineHealth’s care team of about 22,000 were unable to come in to work Jan. 5 due to COVID-19. Prior to the Christmas holiday, about 200 people per day were absent across the health system because they had contracted or had been exposed to COVID-19.
The spike in absences comes as the health system is already challenged by near-record numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19, a high demand as a result of people putting off care earlier in the pandemic and an ongoing labor shortage across the health care industry.
“Keeping our workforce healthy has been critical from the beginning,” said MaineHealth interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Sawyer. “We have been applying the science as fast as we have it. First, with education around social distancing, masking and hand hygiene (and), later, with mandatory vaccines and encouraging boosters. And most recently, we’ve updated our care team quarantine procedures based on the best-available science and CDC guidelines to get our people back safely as soon as possible.”
Healthcare workers at MaineHealth and elsewhere are exhausted, and the overall health care system is under tremendous stress, Sawyer said.
“We need help from our community. We’ve set up booster vaccine clinics this week at our location on Free Street in Portland and at other facilities across our system. We strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.”
MaineHealth Chief Health Improvement Officer Dr. Dora Anne Mills said another concern with the surge is people showing up at emergency departments, urgent care centers and walk-in clinics who have tested positive with an at-home antigen test and want further confirmation. This is unnecessary and could further spread the virus, she said. Emergency departments, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers should be used for medically appropriate needs and the only time anyone who has tested positive should leave isolation is to seek necessary or emergency medical care. Community members who have tested positive at home should contact their primary care providers to determine if follow-up care is necessary.
Anyone showing any of these signs should seek emergency medical care immediately: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.
Community members who need a COVID-19 test should visit https://www.maine.gov/covid19/testing to see a list of COVID testing centers.