Rural Maine counties with lower vaccination rates are fueling a surge of the COVID-19 delta variant that produced 665 new cases on Friday, the highest one-day total since Jan. 20, near the peak of the pandemic.

Cases are soaring in Piscataquis, Penobscot, Aroostook and Waldo counties. People in their 30s and younger also are driving case counts.

There were three additional deaths.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 77,578 cases of COVID-19, and 940 deaths. Penobscot County continued its recent surge, topping the state with 148 new cases, followed by Cumberland County with 92 additional cases. All counties in Maine except Lincoln County are now categorized as having high virus transmission, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which means people are recommended to wear masks in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status. Lincoln County is listed as having substantial transmission.

Piscataquis County has the second-worst vaccination rate in the state, with 53 percent of its population fully inoculated, and the highest number of cases over a seven-day period, with 512.4 cases per 100,000 population. The counties seeing the most virus transmission over the past week – Piscataquis, Penobscot, Aroostook and Waldo counties – all have vaccination rates below 60 percent.

Cumberland County has the state’s highest vaccination rate at 74.4 percent, followed by Lincoln County at 68.9 percent. Lincoln County has the lowest virus prevalence in the state, while Cumberland was the seventh-lowest. However, some low vaccination counties also are experiencing lower rates of the virus. That includes Oxford and Androscoggin counties, which have vaccination rates of about 55 percent, and case rates of about 110 per 100,000 population over the past week.

People in their 30s and younger represent 52.9 percent of all COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, while those in their 60s and older – the most vaccinated age groups in the state – comprise 19.6 percent of all cases. Of those 60 and older, 89.2 percent are fully vaccinated in Maine, compared to 57.7 percent of those 12-39. Those under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, although federal health agencies are expected to approve vaccines for children 11 and younger later this year or early next year.

According to a study published by the U.S. CDC this week, since the delta variant became prevalent, unvaccinated children have been 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 when compared to vaccinated children.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of daily new cases in Maine climbed to 372.3 on Friday, compared to 215.6 a week ago and 101.4 a month ago. Friday was the second consecutive day with more than 600 new cases.

The increase in cases is causing repercussions, with five high school football games this weekend canceled or postponed because of unvaccinated players exposed to COVID-19, and the cancellation of the Common Ground Country Fair, which was slated for this month.

Despite Maine’s surge, the state still has the fifth-lowest virus prevalence in the nation, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Connecticut has the fewest COVID-19 cases in the nation per capita, while South Carolina and Tennessee have the worst rates of COVID-19.

Nationally, cases continue to climb, with the U.S. CDC reporting a 5 percent increase in cases during the week ending Friday, with 153,246 cases on a seven-day average nationwide.

Hospitalizations remain high in Maine, with 163 people with COVID-19 in Maine hospitals, including 62 in critical care and 26 on ventilators.

On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that the state would delay enforcement of the vaccination requirement for health care workers, extending the deadline from Oct. 1 to Oct. 29 to give providers more time to address potential workforce shortages from workers who refuse the vaccine and quit their jobs.

“My goal is that every healthcare worker in Maine is vaccinated,” Mills said in a statement. “Anyone who is placed in the care of a health care worker has the right to expect – as do their families – that they will receive high-quality, safe care from fully vaccinated staff.”

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, led an effort last week seeking more time for health care workers to get vaccinated to try to deal with a potential workforce shortage. Several service providers representing nursing homes, mental health and substance use services, home health care workers and others, asked Mills for a 45-day delay in a letter Aug. 26.

Shaughnessy said Thursday that the social service agencies are in a “precarious” position and are losing workers to places like Starbucks and Walmart. Three nursing homes recently announced they were closing because of staffing issues.

“Providers are going to lose potentially 15 to 25 percent of their staff who will outright refuse the vaccine,” Shaughnessy said. “The extra month is definitely going to be helpful getting them through. We need time to try to find other people.”

On the vaccination front, 848,862 Maine people, or 63.15 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents, have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in a tweet on Friday that Maine is “one of the most vaccinated states in one of the more vaccinated countries, putting it among the most vaccinated places on the planet.”


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