The Twin Cities saw the greatest increase in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks compared to any other area in the state.

Case trends in central and western Maine have fluctuated since the start of June.

From June 28 to July 11, nine cities or towns in Maine recorded five or more new cases, according to ZIP code-level statistics released Thursday by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Six of those were in Androscoggin, Franklin or Oxford counties.

At the top of the list was Auburn with 12 new cases and Lewiston with 11. Third on the list, with 10 cases, was Sanford in York County. Farmington and Augusta each recorded six new cases and Sabattus, Oxford, Brunswick and Waterville saw five new cases each.

Also on Thursday, state health officials reported 49 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, including two in Oxford County. While no new cases were reported in Androscoggin and Franklin counties Thursday, officials reported 19 new cases in Androscoggin County over the three days prior.

The state is no longer updating its COVID-19 dashboard on weekends and Mondays. New cases and deaths reported on Tuesday are the first update since the Friday prior.

The Maine CDC reported a total of 15 additional deaths Wednesday and Thursday following a review of vital records dating back to March 2020, spokesperson Robert Long said in a statement. Of those deaths, one was a resident of Androscoggin County and one was from Oxford County.

Apart from Franklin County, the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases per capita for the region still stands above the statewide average. Statewide, there were 0.19 new cases per 10,000 individuals over the past seven days, a 0.04 increase from one week ago.

Androscoggin County’s seven-day average Thursday was 0.24 cases per 10,000 residents, a decrease from 0.32 a week prior. Oxford County’s average was an increase from the week prior with an average of 0.27 individuals per 10,000 residents having tested positive for the disease over the past seven days.

This comes amid concerns that the highly contagious delta variant of the virus could upend much of the progress made in the fight against COVID-19 in the state and across the country. The state is updating weekly the results of genome sequencing that can identify these variants. Five of the delta variant were identified in Maine as of July 9. Testing conducted by the state’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland, has found at least 18 cases among in-patients.

The nation’s largest nurses’ union sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, this week, urging the agency to reinstate masking recommendations for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, when in public or with others outside of their immediate household.

“The pandemic is not over, and the United States once again stands on the precipice of rising cases,” wrote National Nurses United Director Bonnie Castillo, who is a registered nurse from California.

“Nurses and health care workers stand ready to care for the sickest patients and to be a crucial part of the pandemic response. But our members need safe workplaces in order to ensure the safety of their patients and communities.”

The letter cited the spread of the delta variant and preliminary studies from the Israel and the United Kingdom that suggest the vaccines may be less effective against the delta variant compared to the other variants of concern.

“It should come as no surprise that cases are rising following the rapid reopening of many states and the removal of public health measures, including the (U.S.) CDC’s May 13 guidance update that told vaccinated individuals they no longer needed to wear masks, observe physical distancing, avoid crowds or get tested or isolate after an exposure, within only a few exceptions,” Castillo said.

Maine’s civil state of emergency expired June 30, after which all requirements, such as face coverings for unvaccinated individuals or heightened protocols in schools and child care settings, became recommendations.

And according to the latest update to the Maine CDC’s data on vaccination rates by ZIP code, those tri-county towns are among the remaining pockets in the region with a high number of unvaccinated people.

Those areas, which have either less than 60% of the population fully vaccinated or more than 2,000 people unvaccinated, are: in Androscoggin County, Auburn, Lewiston, Livermore Falls and Sabattus; in Franklin County, Eustis, Farmington and Phillips; and in Oxford County, Andover, Dixfield, Hiram, Porter and Sumner.

Even when considering individuals who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine – those 11 years old and younger – many of these communities have upward of 2,000 individuals remaining unvaccinated. Or in the case of Lewiston, more than 5,000 people ages 15 and older have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That number rises to an estimated 11,045 when considering the entire population that has not been vaccinated, either by circumstance (such as age) or by choice.

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