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Jun. 11—A state of civil emergency that has been in effect in Maine for more than a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic will end June 30, Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday.
Also ending this month is the state's mask mandate for public schools and child care facilities, although face coverings still will be recommended for those who are unvaccinated, including those under 12 who are not yet eligible.
Friday's announcement effectively ends all restrictions that have been in place since COVID-19 first reached Maine in March of last year.
"Today, we take another important step forward in our return to normal," Mills said in a statement. "After fifteen long, difficult months, ending the state of civil emergency is a welcome milestone that reflects the progress Maine has made in getting people vaccinated, reducing the spread of the virus and getting back to normal.
"Maine people have persevered. And although challenges remain, we will get through them together just as we did this past year."
Mills' announcement came on a day when just 38 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, along with one additional death.
Five counties reported no new cases Friday. It was the second-lowest total since last October; the lowest was Monday. In the last 13 days, new cases have gone over 100 just once.
The seven-day rolling case average now stands at 62, which is down from 127 two weeks ago and from 304 cases on average this time last month. At the peak this spring, the seven-day average rose as high as 470 cases.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 68,487 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 844 deaths, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Both are among the lowest per capita of any state.
Hospitalizations have reached their lowest point in seven months. As of Friday, there were 45 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19, including 24 in critical care and 14 on ventilators. That number has been cut in half in just the last 11 days.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday that although hospitalizations are falling, "those who need hospitalization are trending younger, and often sicker, requiring longer stays." Most of the recently hospitalized also are unvaccinated.
On vaccinations, Maine trails only Vermont in states with the highest percentage of its population fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg, but the pace has slowed considerably over the last two weeks, averaging between 5,000 and 6,000 shots per day. That's about half the daily average from this time last month.
Overall, the state has administered 730,573 first doses of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, representing 61.7 percent of the eligible population of those 12 and older, and 739,795 final doses, accounting for 62.5 percent of eligible residents. Included in the final doses are 77,339 shots of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Ending the state of civil emergency brings a symbolic end to 15 months of uncertainty. Mills, and governors in every other state, used emergency declarations to implement public health measures and deploy government resources to respond to COVID-19. Many states have ended theirs, but others still have them in place.
Under Maine law, Mills has authority to declare a state of emergency for 30 days at a time. She had renewed it each month as the pandemic has worn on. Some critics, including Republican leaders, have criticized the Democratic governor for keeping the emergency in place this long.
As for ending the mask mandate in schools and child care settings, the state said local school administrative units and child care providers can still opt to require face coverings, as some businesses have done.
The Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging schools to participate in its free pooled-testing program, which reduces the spread of the virus in schools and eliminates the need for quarantining for participating students and staff who are asymptomatic.
As the summer approaches and as cases trend downward, disparities remain in vaccination rates among different counties and within different age groups. Counties that are more rural and conservative have much lower rates than those in southern Maine and along the coast, and younger adults still appear far less eager than older Mainers to get vaccinated.
In Cumberland County, the vaccination rate is 75 percent among those eligible; in Somerset County, it's just 49 percent. Over the last 14 days, Somerset County's rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita is the highest of any county, while Cumberland County's is the second-lowest, behind Knox County, which also has a high vaccination rate.
Among Maine residents 50 and older, 78 percent are now fully vaccinated, which is at or above the threshold needed for herd immunity. Among those between 12-49, the rate falls to 47 percent.
Although progress on vaccinations has stalled, state officials and health care organizations are still working to entice those who have yet to get theirs, including studying incentive programs in other states. Part of the new strategy involves smaller pop-up clinics at businesses and other gathering places.
On Thursday, a mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up at Rising Tide Brewery in Portland to offer shots free of charge to anyone with or without an appointment. A FEMA spokesman said 30 shots were administered Thursday.
The mobile unit will stay at the popular brewery through Sunday and will be offering shots of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
Another brewery, Maine Beer Company in Freeport, announced Thursday that it was partnering with MaineHealth on two pop-up vaccination clinics. The first will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The second will be the following Wednesday, June 23, also from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for which only those 18 and older are eligible.