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May 4—Maine will no longer require proof of residence to receive a COVID-19 shot, seizing on yet another opportunity to remove any impediment to vaccination.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday that offering shots to anyone, regardless of where they live, is a natural evolution of the effort to inoculate against the virus that has consumed the world for more than a year.
"Effective immediately, if you're in Maine and over the age of 16 ... you can get a shot," Shah said, adding that he hopes removing the residency requirement will entice college students, summer residents and even visitors.
The news comes as vaccinations have slowed in Maine. Over the last seven days, not including Sundays, the state has averaged 11,919 shots per day, compared to 14,137 shots over the previous seven-day period. Although the most recent vaccination numbers could still increase slightly if sites file late reports, it's a decrease of 19 percent.
Still, Maine ranks second behind only Connecticut in rate of residents who are fully vaccinated, just shy of 40 percent.
Among Maine residents age 60 or older, who are at highest risk of serious illness or death, 79 percent are fully vaccinated, while just 20 percent of those between the ages of 16 and 39 are inoculated. Consequently, younger people have been driving new transmission. Since mid-January — the height of the pandemic in Maine — the share of total cases among those under the age of 40 has increased from 23 percent to more than 50 percent, according to CDC data.
Maine reported 417 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. It was the second time in four days cases have risen above 400, although Shah said that not all of them were from the previous 24-hour period. Of the new cases, 271, or 65 percent, were among individuals younger than 40.
No additional deaths were reported.
Before Tuesday, new daily cases had dropped below 300 in seven of the last nine days. The seven-day daily case average stands at 296, compared to 448 two weeks ago and 273 cases on average this time last month. Since the pandemic began, there have been 62,509 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 790 deaths.
Cases have been falling across the country, although there are still some areas where transmission is high. The seven-day daily case average in the United States is just over 50,000, according to the U.S. CDC. That's down from nearly 65,000 on average two weeks ago and nearly 250,000 at the peak in January. The average number of daily deaths is 703, down from 747 per day two weeks ago and from more than 3,000 in late January.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine remains high. As of Tuesday, there were 126 individuals in the hospital, including 56 in critical care and 24 on a ventilator. Hospitalizations had been running in the 60s and 70s per day for most of March and early April but have now been over 110 for 14 consecutive days.
As for vaccinations, the state has administered 641,392 first doses, accounting for 47.7 percent of the population, and 535,398 final doses, representing 39.8 percent of residents.
The national rate of vaccination is 31.8 percent, with Connecticut leading all states at 40.3 percent, with Maine close behind, according to the Bloomberg tracker. Mississippi and Alabama are last with just 23.8 percent of residents fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he has set a goal of getting at least 70 percent of adult Americans their first dose by July 4, even as demand has slowed considerably.
In Maine, vaccinations have waned since peaking shortly after all Mainers over 16 became eligible on April 7. This week, Maine will receive 55,960 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through the state vaccination program, retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and Walmart, and doses sent directly to community health clinics.
Shah said there is some concern about the drop in vaccinations but said it's consistent with what has happened across the country as states move into the next phase, away from the eager and toward those who are hesitant, on the fence or resistant.
As a way to make it easier for younger people to get their shots, vaccination sites are increasingly offering a walk-in option. MaineHealth will offer walk-in appointments at its Scarborough Downs site from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Next week and the week after, the vaccine clinic will welcome walk-ins between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Additionally, the state is working to bring more options to rural counties where vaccination rates lag, including shifting doses to primary care offices.
Knox and Cumberland counties have the highest rates of vaccination, at 45 percent each. Oxford, Androscoggin and Somerset counties have the lowest rate, at 33 percent each.
A mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency finished a four-day stop Monday in Fryeburg, in western Oxford County, and will set up shop from Wednesday through Friday at the Boofy Quimby Memorial Center in the Androscoggin County town of Turner.
The Fryeburg site averaged just under 150 per day from Friday through Monday, far fewer than the 550 doses per day administered while the mobile site was in Biddeford last week.
With the shift toward smaller, more versatile sites, at least one mass vaccination site is preparing to close. Northern Light Health, which has been operating a high-volume clinic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, announced Monday that it is transitioning new vaccinations to its site on Union Street in Bangor by the end of this week. Those who received their first doses at the Cross Center will still go there for their second, but the site is expected to close on May 27.