Maine Tops 1,000 Deaths As Delta Variant Fills Hospitals

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine topped 1,000 COVID-19 deaths as the delta variant continues to fill the state's hospital beds, and Gov. Janet Mills used the “grim and unwelcome milestone” to press Tuesday for residents to get vaccinated.

An additional 18 deaths recorded in the state since Saturday pushed the total to 1,002 since the pandemic began nearly 19 months ago, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

Behind the numbers are “parents, grandparents, siblings, children, loved ones and friends, all valued members of our Maine community,” Mills said.

“We mourn their passing and grieve for the moments they are no longer able to share with us,” she said, urging people to ”please get vaccinated today" to protect loved ones and give health care workers a break.

According to the Maine CDC, 214 people are currently hospitalized, including 73 who are in critical care, which is the highest total since the pandemic began. There are currently 58 available critical care beds.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 384 on Sept. 5 to 485 on Sept. 19. The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.

There have also been more than 84,000 infections in the state since the start of the pandemic, Maine CDC said Tuesday.

About three-quarters of Maine’s eligible population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In other pandemic-related news:

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VACCINE MANDATE

A federal judge must rule in little more than a week on a lawsuit seeking to overturn the governor's vaccine mandate for health care workers.

U.S. District Judge Jon Levy, who heard arguments Monday, said he'll weigh recent court rulings on religious liberties while deciding whether the mandate violates health care workers' religious freedoms.

During the hearing, Levy expressed concern that granting the injunction to prevent the governor’s mandate would have the broader impact of overturning a 2019 law that ended religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines required for school children, according to news outlets. That law was upheld by the results of a popular vote.

In Maine, the governor’s mandate, which goes into effect Oct. 1, applies to 150,000 health care workers.

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MASK MANDATE

The Portland City Council deadlocked 4-4 over imposing an indoor mask mandate.

Supporters of the proposal said Monday evening before the vote that the city needs to do more to stop the spread of the delta variant.

Councilors who voted against the mandate said businesses are already under a major strain.

The issue isn't going away. The mask mandate is expected to be on the agenda again at the next meeting Oct. 4.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending indoor mask across Maine.

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Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle contributed to this report.