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Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 29, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, July 29, 2021
Next on the pandemic front: masks again?
Should you wear one, even if you’re vaccinated?

by Leslie Landrigan

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on July 27 that people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 should still wear masks indoors—at least in hot spots “with substantial and high transmission.”

This area is not one of those places. On July 26, Maine CDC reported a total of four confirmed and two probable cases of COVID-19 in Hancock County. That’s one for every 9,135 people, below the CDC’s definition of “high transmission,” which is one for every 2,000 people.

The Peninsula and Islands, however, have a high rate of vaccination. In eight local communities, 99 percent of the eligible residents have been vaccinated, according to the Maine CDC. (See list on Page 2.)

But still, summer visitors, some with license plates from as far away as Alabama and Florida, are here on vacation. Children under 12 can’t get vaccinated because no vaccines have been approved for them. Of greatest concern is the deadly and extremely contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, has been voicing that concern as cases begin to spike in Maine.

On Monday, July 26, Shah posted a message on the CDC’s website. It said, “On Friday, there were 25 people in the hospital with COVID-19 in Maine. Today, the number is 33.”

Then, on Tuesday, after the CDC issued its new mask recommendation, Shah advised people in Maine’s hot spots—York and Piscataquis counties—to mask up in public indoor spaces.

Reason for concern

In May, the U.S. CDC said vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks indoors. But that was before the Delta variant struck. According to the U.S. CDC, 83 percent of people who catch COVID-19 catch the Delta variant.

It’s so virulent that vaccinated people can spread it, according to new data, U.S. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a July 27 press call.

Mask up in schools

The U.S. CDC also recommended on July 27 that school students wear masks in the classroom. That hadn’t been the intention for School Union 93. According to a draft plan on returning to school, vaccinated students wouldn’t have to wear masks. But then, in a phone interview just moments before the new U.S. CDC recommendations came out, Superintendent Reg Ruhlin acknowledged that could change.

However, Ruhlin said next year will be better than last year. “If someone told me in March four months ago that we could return to school with no cohorting, no remote, no hybrid, I think everyone would sign up for that,” he said.

Autumnal concerns

Town managers are starting to think about fall, when people go indoors and COVID-19 has a better chance of spreading. Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings said in a phone interview that town employees and officials will probably have to go back to working remotely, work hybrid hours and meet by Zoom.

Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher said there’s so much uncertainty it’s hard to know what to do. But he’s concerned that people who haven’t been vaccinated are sitting ducks for the Delta variant, he said in a phone interview. “It’s just waiting for someone to pick off. I’m hoping people who resisted vaccinations will see the writing on the wall.”

To encourage vaccinations, Northern Light Health is starting up a free mobile vaccine program. Nurses will travel to homes or businesses to vaccinate people who have a hard time getting to a vaccination site. To refer someone, visit maine.gov/dhhs/covid-19-referral-form.

Billings isn’t optimistic about people who refuse to get vaccinated. “Not until they’re sucking their last breath do they realize it’s serious,” she said.

Vaccination rates

Blue Hill 99 percent
Brooksville 99 percent
Brooklin 99 percent
Isle au Haut 99 percent
Little Deer Isle 99 percent
Sedgwick 99 percent
Stonington 99 percent
Surry 99 percent
Deer Isle 92 percent
Penobscot 89 percent

Castine 61 percent (however, that’s because the Maine Maritime Academy population is counted differently for different purposes)