Maine continues to see a dramatic increase in transmission of COVID-19, particularly in Waldo County, where state officials Friday announced an outbreak associated with a church.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it has confirmed 15 cases at the Calvary Chapel Belfast, which is located in Searsmont. Last week, eight cases were investigated among staff at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, although hospital officials later said the cases do not appear to be linked.

Waldo County has emerged as a major hotspot in Maine. Over the last 14 days, there have been 50 cases per 10,000 people in that county. The next highest county was Penobscot, at just 18 cases per 10,000. Kennebec County, which borders Waldo to the west, has the second-lowest rate over the last two weeks. The vaccination rate in Waldo County is 57 percent, about four percentage points below the statewide rate.

Overall, state health officials reported 215 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the third consecutive day of at least 200 cases as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to work its way through Maine. One additional death was reported as well, a woman in her 60s from Aroostook County.

The seven-day rolling average now stands at 170 cases, the highest it has been since May. That’s more than double what it was just two weeks ago and up from 24 cases on average this time last month, according to Maine CDC data. The seven-day test positivity rate increased to 3.65 percent.

As of Friday, 15 of 16 Maine counties fit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of high or substantial transmission, where masks are recommended indoors regardless of a person’s vaccination status. Waldo, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties are seeing the highest rates of new transmission. Only Kennebec County has yet to reach the substantial or high threshold, but it’s close.

Across the United States, more than 90 percent of all counties fall into those categories, and states with lower vaccination rates are being hit hardest. Hospitals in many southern states are being overrun with COVID-19 patients.

Since the first case was reported in Maine exactly 17 months ago, there have been 72,333 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 904 deaths. Both remain among the lowest per capita of any state.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine increased to 69 on Friday, the highest total since June 4. Of those, 35 are in critical care and 15 on ventilators.

As the state grapples with this latest wave of new cases, more efforts are underway to impose vaccine mandates.

Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday announced that all health care workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 1. That includes staff at hospitals, doctors offices, nursing homes and more.

Additionally, the Maine Community College System announced that all students must be vaccinated before starting classes, joining a growing list of colleges to impose vaccine mandates.

“The latest information about the delta variant makes it clear we must require vaccinations to keep our community as safe as possible,” community college system President David Daigler said in a statement.

Across the country, many music venues and promoters have begun implementing a vaccine mandate or proof of negative COVID-19 test in order to attend shows. An increasing number of private businesses also have made vaccines a condition of employment.

On Friday, the U.S. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to recommend an additional shot of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. This comes one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved third doses for millions of Americans who are especially vulnerable because of organ transplants, certain cancers or other disorders.

Maine health care providers are in the process of identifying and reaching out to patients who might be eligible at this time.

Although there have been some breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people, the overwhelming majority  of cases have been among unvaccinated, both in Maine and across the country.

Since vaccines were made available in Maine, there have been 36,785 cases. Of those, just 712 have been among fully vaccinated people, or less than 2 percent. Similarly, of the 816 people who have been hospitalized in Maine since vaccines were available, just 32 (or about 4 percent) have been fully vaccinated.

Vaccinations have slowed way down in Maine since mid-June, although they have seen a slight uptick in recent weeks as cases have risen. The increase in vaccinations has been much greater in southern states recently.

As of Friday, 824,626 residents had received final doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That accounts for 61.4 percent of all residents and 69.6 percent of those 12 and older who are eligible.

Overall, younger residents have been far more reluctant to get vaccinated. Among those 50 and older, the rate is 82 percent. Among those between the ages of 12-49, the rate drops to 57 percent.

There are also wide geographical disparities that show rural, conservative counties have much lower rates than counties along Maine’s coast. Cumberland County has the highest rate of eligible residents fully vaccinated, at 82 percent, while four counties – Somerset, Piscataquis, Franklin and Oxford – have yet to reach 60 percent among eligible individuals.

Maine still trails only Vermont and Massachusetts among states with the highest rates of vaccination, according to Bloomberg.


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