Maine reported 268 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, continuing a trend of lower case counts as the state closes in on vaccinating 50 percent of its population with at least a first dose.

Two additional deaths also were reported, bringing the total for April to 41.

Friday marked the fifth time in the last six days that cases have been below 275. The seven-day average of daily new cases now stands at 282, down considerably from 442 two weeks ago but higher than a month ago, when the average was 211 cases. At the peak in mid-January, Maine was averaging more than 600 cases per day.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 61,213 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 784 deaths, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although cases have fallen over the last two weeks, hospitalizations – which along with deaths often lag behind case spikes – remain high. As of Friday morning, 121 individuals were in the hospital with COVID-19, including 59 in critical care, an increase of 13 just since Thursday. There haven’t been that many people in critical care since Jan. 26.

The seven-day average for hospitalizations is 119, which is up from an average of 77 this time last month but still well below peak in early-to-mid-January, when hospitalizations rose above 200 on several occasions.

Cases and deaths are declining across the country as well, although there are still pockets where transmission remains high. The seven-day case average in the United States dropped to 52,528 this week, the lowest it has been since last October. Cases peaked at nearly 250,000 per day in mid-January, according to the U.S. CDC. The average number of daily deaths has fallen to 628, which is the lowest since last July and down from a peak of 3,400 deaths per day in mid-January.

Some of the decrease is likely linked to increased rates of vaccinations. More than 100 million people, or roughly 44 percent of the U.S. population, have had at least one dose and about 30 percent are fully vaccinated. That’s almost twice as many as the number that had been fully vaccinated by the end of March, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing Friday.

“That’s 100 million Americans with a sense of relief and peace of mind, knowing that after a long and hard year, they’re protected from the virus,” he said.

But some of the case decline also can be attributed to lower testing volume, especially in some states.

In Maine, meanwhile, 632,703 people, or 47 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population, had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday morning, while 512,377 individuals, or 38 percent of the population, had gotten their final doses of the vaccine. Maine’s vaccination rate still leads the nation, according to Bloomberg, which tracks each state’s progress.

In Cumberland County, the state’s most populous, 58 percent of the 295,000 residents has received at least one shot. In Oxford County, just 39 percent have gotten one dose.

Among Mainers 60 and older, 78 percent are fully vaccinated. Among those under 50, most of whom have only been eligible for three weeks, the rate is just 21 percent. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah urged younger Mainers to get their shots in remarks during Thursday’s media briefing.

“If you’re on the younger side … and unsure about getting a vaccine, I’m here to tell you: You should get the shot,” Shah said.

In an effort to reach more young people, and in response to sagging demand, vaccine clinics are increasingly offering more walk-in options. MaineHealth announced this week that several of its sites will offer walk-ins, including the mass vaccination clinic at Scarborough Downs. The Sanford location at the former Marshalls store started welcoming walk-ins this week.

Northern Light Health started permitting walk-ins this week at the Portland Expo and the former Pier 1 at the Maine Mall in South Portland.

Also, the mobile clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after spending most of this week in Biddeford, opened Friday at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds in Oxford County, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. The FEMA site allows walk-ins, and about half of the 2,277 given in Biddeford this week were to Mainers who did not make an appointment.

Progress could stall somewhat next week, as Maine is expected to see a nearly 40 percent drop in vaccine doses coming into the state, although that total doesn’t include doses that will go directly to retail pharmacies and federally qualified health centers. Those allotments won’t be finalized until the weekend.

Although Maine’s cases are trending downward, there are still areas of concern. Jails and prisons, for instance, have seen recent outbreaks. At Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, there were at least 30 cases as of Friday. None of the residents there have been vaccinated and only a quarter of staff have been vaccinated thus far.

And on Friday, the Women’s Center at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham reported that 24 inmates had contracted COVID

There are also big disparities in where cases are spiking the most in Maine. Over the last 28 days, Androscoggin County is averaging 167 cases per 10,000 residents and has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the entire country. Oxford and Kennebec counties also have seen in excess of 100 cases per 10,000 in that time.

On the other side, Washington County saw just 20 cases per 10,000 people, followed by Hancock at 30 per 10,000 and Waldo at 31 per 10,000.

In general, the counties where case counts are high counts have lower rates of vaccination.

 

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