Patrick Boland of FEMA holds open the tent flap to the mobile vaccination unit at Oxford Casino where Cynthia Venoit set up to five shots April 12. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The rising number of COVID-19 cases in Oxford County has the Maine Center for Disease Control investigating outbreaks at six schools, a paper mill and a nursing home.

While cases in Androscoggin County remain the highest among Maine’s 16 counties, Oxford is closing in.

Statistics from the Maine Center for Disease Control on Monday showed Androscoggin County had a rate of 645 cases per 10,000 residents. Oxford’s rate is third among the counties with 547 cases per 10,000. Franklin County’s rate is 400 cases per 10,000.

The state average is 448.3 cases per 10,000.

In Oxford County, Maine CDC outbreak investigations are ongoing at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, N.D. Paper mill in Rumford, Guy Rowe School in Norway, Rumford Elementary School, Sacopee Valley Elementary School and Sacopee Valley Middle School, both in Hiram, Norway Health and Rehabilitation Center and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris.

In Androscoggin County, outbreak investigations are ongoing at many schools, three nursing homes, a business and a church. The list includes Auburn Middle School, Bruce Whittier Middle School in Poland, Clover Health Care in Auburn, D’Youville Pavillion in Lewiston, Durham Community School, Edward Little High School and Great Falls School, both in Auburn, Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls, Leavitt Area High School in Turner, Lewiston High and Middle schools, Lisbon Community and High schools, Montello Manor in Lewiston, Poland Regional High School, Robert Connors Elementary School in Lewiston; Dingley Press in Lisbon and Vineyard Church of Mechanic Falls.

An outbreak is defined as three or more cases from separate households, Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said. In most cases outbreaks reflect ongoing community transmission, especially those associated with schools, gathering places and places of work, Long said.

One reason for Oxford County’s climbing numbers, state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, said, could be the low vaccination rate, similar to Androscoggin’s. Until a month ago, vaccination appointments were hard to get, he said, but shots are now more plentiful.

Otherwise, “it’s a little perplexing what could be causing these numbers,” Bennett said.

When he goes into stores, people are masked up, he said.

At his church, attendance is up but far below pre-COVID-19 numbers. About 60 people attend services these days compared to 150 to 200 before the pandemic last year. Those who do attend service “have been vaccinated,” Bennett said. He said he got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a month ago.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has said the COVID-19 variants are more contagious.

Like those in Androscoggin County, school leaders in Oxford County have said outbreaks at their schools have come from the community, not the school.

Both counties are designated moderate risk for transmission by the Maine Department of Education, which means the state recommends caution with hybrid learning.

At Rumford Elementary, the hybrid model means shorter days and each class staying together, even eating lunch together to limit social mixing. Like other schools, students are masked up and social distanced, Principal Jill Bartash said.

Region School Unit 10 Superintendent Deb Alden said the positive cases “were not transmitted in our schools since school was not in session. Rumford area schools are not back in person 100%.” If a sports team has either a positive case or has an athlete quarantining, no competitions are held, she said.

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