Registered Nurse Helen Peasley, left, watches as registered Nurse Cathy Bean, right, the clinical manager for community health and telehealth for Northern Light Home Care & Hospice, prepares doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the provider’s clinic at the Maine Mall in South Portland Monday. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

Maine is setting new daily and weekly records for COVID-19 vaccinations, although supplies next week will be only slightly higher than this week.

The state administered 17,651 doses on Wednesday, a new one-day record, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a media briefing with reporters.

On a seven-day average, the state has given 12,612 shots per day, compared to 8,440 a week ago.

“I am optimistic overall about where we are heading,” Shah said. “This is our path toward normalcy.”

Maine hopes to reopen more business and leisure activities by late March. On Thursday, the state reported 187 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

After falling closer to the middle of the pack, Maine has rebounded and is again in the top 10 states for how quickly it is vaccinating the public, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker. Maine ranks ninth with 22 percent of the population getting at least the first shot, compared to 19 percent nationwide. New Mexico is tops in the nation at 27 percent.

Maine will receive 34,020 doses for the state vaccination program next week, an increase of 520 doses from this week. In addition, the state will receive more doses through a federal retail pharmacy program. Those numbers are typically released Sunday or Monday, and for the last two weeks have been about 12,000 additional doses.

In total, Maine should expect to receive about 46,000 or more doses next week, similar to the 45,150 doses this week, but less than the 55,060 doses the state received last week. The doses in recent weeks, though, are more than double Maine’s weekly allocation of about 20,000 doses in early February.

The bulk of next week’s doses – 28,950 of the 34,020 – will be sent to hospital systems. Shah said mass vaccination clinics, such as at the Portland Expo, Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the former Marshalls in Sanford and at the Auburn Mall starting on March 17, are one reason Maine is ramping up the pace of immunization. More mass vaccination sites are expected to open in the near future, he said.

“The high-volume sites will continue to be a mainstay of our strategy,” Shah said.

However, as more vaccine doses roll in – shipments are expected to increase substantially in late March and early April – Shah said more doses will be sent to different places, such as independent pharmacies and lower-volume doctor’s offices.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 46,441 confirmed COVID-19 positive tests and 723 deaths. The seven-day daily average of new cases stood at 173.4 on Thursday, compared to 158.6 a week ago and 217.7 a month ago.

Shah reflected that Friday marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Maine on March 12, 2020.

“That number, 723 who died, can’t even begin to capture the sorrow, grief and loss that 723 families experienced in the last year,” Shah said, noting that because of COVID-19 safety protocols dying for many became “a solitary affair.”

Shah said with much of the state closed and people staying away from others, life had an “unbearable sameness.”

“It’s almost as if March of 2020 has blurred into March of 2021,” he said.

But with more vaccinations and lower case numbers compared to the mid-January peak, Maine is slowly opening back up.

Starting March 26, bars and tasting rooms will be permitted to open and capacity limits at indoor and outdoor establishments will increase to 50 percent for indoor gatherings and 75 percent for outdoor gatherings. On May 24, those limits will be adjusted to 75 percent for indoor gatherings and 100 percent for outdoor gatherings.

Northern Light Health on Thursday announced that school staff and child care workers of any age can register for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through its system at covid.northernlighthealth.org. Verification of school employment will be required for those under 60. Outside of school staff, Maine is currently vaccinating those 60 and older. Among Northern Light Health’s vaccine clinics are two mass vaccination sites, at the Portland Expo and Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

School staff also can get shots through any of the federal retail pharmacy program partners in Maine: Walmart, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Hannaford. The state also is setting up clinics this weekend designated for school employees 60 and older.

The Northern Light Health clinics are open to anyone who is eligible, including school staff, while the federal retail pharmacy program sets aside doses exclusively for school staff following President Biden’s directive to do so last week.

Through Thursday, 293,566 Maine people had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing 21.84 percent of the population. Those who had received final doses total 170,311, or 12.67 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million population.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday launched a new program to give free rides to COVID-19 vaccine appointments for people who don’t drive or have access to transportation. Rides are available from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Sundays and can be scheduled by calling 855-608-5172.

There are currently 70 people hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19, including 23 in intensive care.

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