Maine health officials reported 551 new cases of COVID-19 and four deaths on Thursday as the delta variant maintains its hold on the state.

The seven-day daily average remains at a sustained high level with 454 cases, down from 589 cases on average two weeks ago and 485 cases this time last month.

Virus transmission remains heaviest in the state’s least vaccinated counties. Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties, which are among the most vaccinated in the state, continue to experience the lowest rates of new infections. All counties are still classified as experiencing high rates of transmission, which means masks are recommended when indoors.

While COVID-19 cases have subsided in much of the country, the late summer and early fall surge has yet to significantly ease in Maine.

Maine’s case rate of 36.3 per 100,000 population is 14th-highest in the country, compared to the national average of 23 cases per 100,000 population, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Vermont and New Hampshire also are seeing transmission rates similar to Maine’s.

Alaska, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are experiencing the highest rates of virus prevalence, with each state having more than 70 cases per 100,000. Hawaii has the lowest rate of COVID-19 at 8.9 cases per 100,000.

Since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, there have been 99,807 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 1,113 deaths, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitalization numbers remained virtually unchanged Thursday, with 197 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, including 71 in critical care and 31 on ventilators. The overwhelming majority of people hospitalized continue to either be unvaccinated or vaccinated but older and with other serious underlying health conditions.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 within Maine’s hospitals were cut dramatically after vaccines for the disease became widely available this spring, but unvaccinated employees and visitors have continued to drive outbreaks, contributing to staffing shortages and resulting in at least one death from the disease. There have been 13 outbreaks within Maine’s hospitals since March 1, with 45 patients and 142 staff members becoming infected, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

As for vaccinations, the state has now administered 898,608 final doses of COVID-19 vaccines, representing 66.9 percent of the state’s population.

Maine pediatricians and schools are now preparing for the rollout of vaccinations for children 5 to 11 years old. Vaccines are expected to be approved for that age group in early November, and shots will be available through primary care physicians and school-based clinics.

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