Maine reported another 49 cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths linked to the virus on Thursday as infections continue to rise across the country and vaccinations level off.

The case numbers remain far below what Maine was seeing during peak infection periods in April and January, but indicate the more contagious delta variant could be on the rise, especially among unvaccinated people. The seven-day average of daily new cases is now at 31, up from 25 cases per day two weeks ago.

There have been 69,373 cases of COVID-19 and 877 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The 10 deaths reported Thursday were identified during a review of vital records from March 2020 to the present.

The newly reported deaths occurred between May 17, 2020, and Dec. 2, 2020, and include three residents of Cumberland County, one resident of Hancock County, two residents of Kennebec County, one resident of Oxford County, one resident of Somerset County and two residents of York County. Five were women and five were men. One was in their 50s, one in their 70s and eight were 80 or older.

Vaccinations have leveled off significantly, with 59.4 percent of Maine’s roughly 1.3 million residents having received their final dose of vaccine as of Wednesday. That figure rises to 67.4 percent among residents 12 and older, who are eligible for vaccination.

Just 571 doses of vaccine were administered statewide on Wednesday. During the peak of vaccination efforts in April, Maine was administering more than 15,000 doses per day. Nationally, 48.3 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, including 56.5 percent of those 12 or older. Only five states and Washington, D.C., have administered more doses per 100,000 eligible residents than Maine, according to U.S. CDC data.

The majority of new cases being reported are among people who are not fully vaccinated, according to the Maine CDC. They appear to be spread out around the state with the exception of some coastal counties that have seen very low numbers of new cases in recent weeks, according to the most recent county-by-county data. Rural Franklin County had the highest rate of new cases for the four weeks ending July 8 at 13.25 cases per 10,000, followed by Piscataquis County with 11.32 cases per 10,000. The counties have the third and second worst vaccination rates at 56.9 percent and 54.6 percent, respectively.

Cumberland County, the state’s most populous and highly vaccinated county, reported 4.10 cases per 10,000 for the four weeks ending July 8, while Sagadahoc County on the midcoast reported the best case rate with just four new cases reported over the same period. The case rate there was 1.12 per 10,000.

The U.S. CDC no longer monitors all “breakthrough” cases in which vaccinated people have contracted the virus, and is focusing on identifying and investigating hospitalizations and deaths. The Maine CDC, however, is continuing to look at all breakthrough cases and reports them to the U.S. CDC.

State data on breakthrough cases is updated weekly and was last reported July 9, at which point there had been 514 cases among fully vaccinated people. The CDC notes, however, that while vaccines are highly effective and safe, the number is likely an undercount as not all cases are investigated to determine vaccine status and it takes time to validate vaccine status, delaying cases being included in the count.

Hospitalizations have remained relatively consistent in recent weeks. On Thursday there were 29 people hospitalized, including 15 in critical care and six on ventilators. The seven-day positivity rate for PCR tests also is similar to what it was on Wednesday at around 0.90.

Nationally, the U.S. has seen a more than 100 percent increase in the seven-day average of daily new cases being reported from two weeks ago. On Thursday there were 38,236 new cases reported, bringing the seven-day daily average of new cases to 26,513. Two weeks ago the seven-day daily average was at 12,540, according to data from The New York Times. Every state in the nation has seen an increase, with Tennessee and Florida leading the country. Maine boasts the smallest increase in the case rate from two weeks ago.

Health officials have attributed the rise in infections to lagging vaccination rates, increased gatherings and the spread of the delta variant, a highly transmissible form of the disease first detected in India that has led to recent lockdowns in other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom.

As of July 9, the official count of delta variant cases in Maine is five with an additional five cases under investigation. MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital network, had reported as many as 18 cases of the variant as of last week and has forwarded the hospital network’s samples to the Maine CDC for full genetic sequencing.

MaineHealth doesn’t have new data on the variant and is no longer doing extensive testing now that the variant’s presence in Maine has been confirmed, John Porter, a spokesman for the system, said on Thursday.

“There are good public health reasons to understand the variant and to know if it’s spreading, but ultimately when you have a patient in front of you – whether they need to be on a ventilator or not, those are things that are not variant dependent,” Porter said.

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