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Governor acknowledges an 'unwelcome milestone'

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Maine surpassed 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday and the somber milestone provided a stark reminder of the toll the disease has taken on the state and its people.

The state reported 18 additional deaths and 632 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period. The additional deaths brought the state's total to 1,002 lives lost since the pandemic began in March 2020.

"Nearly 19 months after this pandemic began, today marks a grim and unwelcome milestone," Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement that the state honors the people who have died by "continuing the work of striving to keep Maine people safe and healthy. The vaccines are our best tool in those efforts. They are safe, free and available throughout Maine. For yourself, your loved ones and communities, please get vaccinated."

The 18 deaths were the result of a periodic review of death certificates. Thirteen of the deaths occurred between Aug. 27 and Sept. 10, while one was from February 2021, according to the Maine CDC.

At the same time, the number of patients in Maine hospitals, including those in intensive care units, reached record highs Tuesday as the delta variant surge continues to strain the state's health care system.

The 632 cases represent new cases recorded on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Since the pandemic began, Maine has logged 84,542 cases of COVID-19. Slightly more than half of the new cases, 324, were in people under 20. Penobscot County, a continued COVID-19 hot spot, reported the most new cases with 199, followed by Cumberland County with 76 cases.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 481 on Tuesday, compared to 449.7 a week ago and 162.3 a month ago.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have been rising steadily for weeks and could continue to set records based on COVID-19 case trends, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates. On Sunday, Maine tied the previous record of 207 hospitalizations - set at the peak of last winter's surge when only a fraction of the population had been vaccinated - only to surpass it Monday with 214 hospital admissions.

On Tuesday, the record was eclipsed again, with 225 people hospitalized in Maine, including 82 in critical care.

"These are records no one wants to be setting," Shah said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Shah called Monday's figure "another dark record." Shah also cited a recent study published by the U.S. CDC showing that unvaccinated people in Los Angeles County, California, were 29 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals at the tail end of the study period in late-July.

"Hospitals are strained," Shah said on Twitter. "If you are banking on a bed or an ICU - let alone monoclonal antibodies - as your strategy rather than getting vaccinated, you are miscalculating."

Comparing Maine to other states, Maine had the 32nd highest virus prevalence in the nation on Tuesday, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, with 36.1 cases per 100,000 residents. The national average was 41, while states hardest hit by the virus, including Alaska, West Virginia and Kentucky, had rates of more than 90 per 100,000. Maryland reported the lowest levels of virus prevalence at 20.3 cases per 100,000.

On the vaccination front, 872,700 Maine people are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, representing 64.92 percent of the state's 1.3 million residents. Parents were celebrating a dose of good news on Monday, when Pfizer announced that its vaccine was safe and effective for ages 5-11 and said it soon would be submitting data to federal regulators for approval. Elementary schoolchildren could be getting their shots before Halloween, according to public health experts, based on how long it takes for the Food and Drug Administration to sort through data and give Emergency Use Authorization.

In another effort to encourage people to get vaccinated, a team of Northern Light Health nurses, doctors and pharmacists calling themselves "The Variants" created a YouTube video of themselves performing Pat Benatar's 1980 song "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" but changing the lyrics to promote vaccination with lines like "We can beat the alpha, the beta and the delta strain."

The video includes cameos by Mills, Sen. Susan Collins and Slugger, the Sea Dogs' mascot.

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