LEWISTON – Even as the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in Maine continues to decline, “things in Androscoggin County are still concerning,” the state’s public health director said Thursday.

On average, new cases in the county are declining but are still high compared to the rest of the state. There have been 90 new cases per 10,000 residents in Androscoggin County over the past 14 days, Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, said at Thursday’s media briefing.

That is a stark difference from the number of new cases in the past two weeks in the entire state, which is only 38 per 10,000 people.

Androscoggin County’s lower vaccination rate compared to the rest of the state certainly helps explain the county’s high case rate, but is only “part of the story, not the whole story,” Shah said.

Oxford and Somerset counties, for example, also have lower vaccination rates but are not seeing the same high caseload as Androscoggin.

Of those eligible to receive the vaccine in Androscoggin County, 49% have received the first dose and 38.1% have received the final dose. In Oxford County, 46.4% have received the first dose and 36.2% the second dose.

Statewide, 55.7% of all eligible Mainers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 44.6% are fully inoculated.

Shah reported that two out of every three people in Maine over the age of 60 have been vaccinated, but just one in five Mainers below 50 are fully inoculated.

Dr. Michael Stadnicki, chief of primary care at Central Maine Healthcare and a family practitioner in Lewiston, said Thursday that family physicians “have an incredible responsibility” to talk to their patients about the vaccine and walk them through their concerns.

“Part of our role always, pandemic or not, is to talk about vaccinations that people are due for,” he said.

His patients come to him with varying degrees of hesitancy and knowledge of the vaccination.

“I sort of take that responsibility with my patients to help to offer them the right resources and answer their specific questions as they come up individually,” Stadnicki said.

“I’ll often tell them if you trust me, trust me on this,” he said.

State health officials reported 254 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths Thursday, three of whom were residents of Androscoggin County and one from Kennebec County.

The deaths were of three women and one man, in their 20s, 40s, 60s and 80s. That marks the second time in a week that a patient in their 20s has died from COVID-19 and only the third death of someone in that age bracket in Maine since the start of the pandemic over a year ago, Shah said.

Shah said that those deaths are a “stark and sad reminder” that the disease is spreading at a faster rate among younger people.

“COVID is spreading rapidly among younger people in Maine and even though you may think of yourself as healthy and not at risk, COVID should not just be measured by deaths,” but by the overall impact catching or spreading the disease can have on a community.

There are 125 people hospitalized, the highest it has been since Feb. 8. Forty-six of those hospitalized are in intensive care and 15 connected to a ventilator.

In Androscoggin County, the seven-day average of new cases continues to trend down, dropping from 61.7 cases Wednesday to 54.3 cases Thursday. The county’s cumulative case rate remains higher than all other counties in Maine at 660.3 per 10,000 people.

“The nature of community transmission makes it very difficult to control because much of that is occurring in nonpublic settings,” Shah said.

Vaccinations “are the way out of this,” he added.

“We’re trying to make it the easy option for everybody across the state. Getting vaccinated is the smart thing to do,” Shah said.

Across the states, vaccination providers are setting up more walk-in clinic hours and before-and-after work hours.

The mobile vaccination unit run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with the state finished its five-day stop in Biddeford on Wednesday and will reopen at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds in Oxford County on Friday morning. From there, it goes to Turner in Androscoggin County.

“Getting vaccinated is more convenient that it has ever been,” Shah said.

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