State health officials reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, an uptick that indicates cases of the viral disease may be on the rise due to the presence of the more contagious delta variant.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention also reported an additional five deaths linked to the virus as the result of a vital records review dating to March 2020.

The number of new cases has fluctuated considerably in recent weeks due, in part, to less frequent updates from the Maine CDC since the civil state of emergency ended on June 30. But the seven-day average of new cases rose from 18 to 29 during the past week.

To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 69,324 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 867 deaths linked to the virus. The five deaths reported Wednesday include four women and a man, all 80 or older. One was from Androscoggin County, three were from Aroostook County and one was a resident of Penobscot County.

Hospitalizations in Maine have remained relatively constant in recent weeks. On Wednesday there were 29 people hospitalized, including 17 in critical care and five on ventilators. The seven-day positivity rate for PCR test results was 0.93 percent, up from 0.45 one week ago.

Nationwide, the number of COVID-19 cases has begun increasing again after a months-long decline, which experts have attributed both to increased gathering as well as the spread of the delta variant, particularly among unvaccinated individuals.

The seven-day average of daily new cases in the U.S. rose to 25,661 Wednesday, up from 12,262 two weeks ago, according to data from the New York Times. Maine continues to perform better than most states in terms of new cases, with only South Dakota and Iowa reporting better 14-day change rates.

The official count from the Maine CDC of the delta variant is five cases through July 9, with an additional five cases under investigation. However, MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital network, reported 18 cases of the variant as of Friday dating to July 1, when it began testing certain nasal swab samples from COVID-19 positive patients using a new test that can detect the variant.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer, said last week that the hospital network’s samples had been forwarded to the Maine CDC for full genetic sequencing, at which point confirmed delta cases would show up in the state’s tally.

On the vaccination front, 59.3 percent of Maine’s roughly 1.3 million residents had received their final dose of vaccine as of Wednesday. That figure rises to 67.4 percent among the age 12-and-over population that is eligible for vaccination.

Current information indicates the majority of new COVID-19 cases are among people who are not fully vaccinated, Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said in an email. Since June 1, just over 90 percent of COVID-related deaths have been among people who were not fully vaccinated.

The PCR test results that generate daily changes in the case count don’t show which variant is involved in new cases, but the Maine CDC expects to see a greater impact of the delta variant in the coming weeks, Long said.

“Vaccination remains the best way for Maine people to protect themselves from the delta variant and other forms of COVID-19,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced a new vaccination clinic at the Portland International Jetport that will offer shots daily from noon to 8 p.m. to anyone 18 or older regardless of their state of residence. The clinic will offer the single-shot vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson.

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