Apr. 9—Maine health officials reported 438 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest daily total since late January and the latest sign that a spring surge has gripped the state just as vaccinations have ramped up.
Two more individuals died as well.
Meanwhile, at least two public safety agencies have canceled vaccination appointments at clinics next week because Maine will see a dramatic decrease in doses. The cancellations put a damper on the state's recent progress, with more than 50,000 doses administered Wednesday and Thursday combined.
The seven-day daily case average increased to 321, up from 196 two weeks ago and more than double the daily average of 159 this time last month. It's the 8th time in the last nine days that new cases have topped 275, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the pandemic began, there have been 53,434 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 750 people have died with the virus.
Of the new cases Friday, 196, or 45 percent, were in individuals under 30, continuing a recent trend. Over the last two weeks, 1,774 of 4,001 new cases, or 44 percent, have been among individuals under the age of 30, while just 179 cases, or 4.5 percent, have been in those 70 and older.
Slightly more than half of the new cases Friday —241 — were reported to the CDC in the previous 24 hours, while the others are from test results reported from earlier in the week. State officials have said the number of positive tests being reported to the state in recent days have been more than CDC staff can confirm and analyze.
Across the United States, new COVID-19 cases have jumped by about 13 percent in the last two weeks, although some states are being hard hit while others are not.
Michigan's seven-day daily case average has increased by 43 percent in that time, and Florida's is 20 percent higher than two weeks ago. Both states have high totals of coronavirus variants, particularly the strain that originated in the United Kingdom that is starting to dominate. Connecticut, meanwhile, has seen its cases drop by about 10 percent over the last two weeks.
Maine has detected 25 cases of the U.K. variant, five cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa and two cases of the Brazil variant. It's likely those totals are higher, though, since only about 5 percent of all positive cases are sequenced to see if they are a variant. The rate of cases being sequenced nationwide is far lower.
The number of people hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19 on Friday was 77. Of those, 29 were in critical care and 13 were on a ventilator. Hospitalizations have been steady over the last month, ranging from a low of 70 to a high of 86. Throughout the pandemic, 1,722 people have been in the hospital with COVID-19 at some point.
Despite the increasing cases, particularly among young people, Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that there would be no changes to the state's color-coded system for public schools. All 16 counties are classified as "green," meaning in-person instruction can take place as long as schools follow health and safety requirements outlined by the state. Oxford and Androscoggin counties are being closely monitored.
Vaccinations, meanwhile, have accelerated this week, particularly beginning Wednesday when all Mainers over the age of 16 became eligible. The daily average has increased by more than 40 percent in the last two weeks.
"Some of that is because we're getting more vaccines, but some of it is that we were ready to turn those vaccines into vaccinations," Maine CDC director Nirav Shah said Thursday. "These numbers of vaccine doses administered every day, they are not an accident. They're not good luck. They are the result of planning, precision and collaboration. Much of credit for these numbers goes to the scores of health care providers of all stripes who are out there across the state every day putting shots into arms."
As of Friday morning, 847,882 total doses had been given in Maine since vaccinations began in December. Of those, 493,489 were first doses, representing just under 44 percent of the state's 16-and-over population, and 354,393 were final doses, accounting for 31.5 percent. Among residents age 60 and older, who are at highest risk of hospitalization or death, 63 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Next week, though, vaccine appointments could be a little harder to secure. The state is projected to see a nearly 50-percent reduction in vaccines doses and possibly more. Allotments to retail pharmacies across Maine as part of a partnership with the federal government have yet to be finalized but may also decline.
The Maine CDC will receive 36,690 doses of all vaccines next week, down from 54,790 this week and the state's lowest weekly total in a month. The Pfizer and Moderna allocations will not change, but the Johnson & Johnson total decreased from 20,600 doses this week to 2,500 doses next week.
For the retail pharmacy program, Maine received 34,190 doses this week, including 21,100 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state won't learn next week's allotment until the weekend, but Shah said Thursday that states have been told to prepare for less.
A community vaccination clinic that had been scheduled next Tuesday at Noble High School has been canceled because it will not receive the doses it was expecting. All 500 people who made appointments to receive a dose are being notified, according to North Berwick Fire Chief Michael Barker.
Another clinic, hosted by the Augusta Fire Department, also was canceled after the department was notified that it would not be receiving the 800 doses it had requested. Those doses will instead go to a mobile vaccination partnership between the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Augusta deputy fire Chief Steve Leach told the Kennebec Journal.
The Mills administration announced this week that it would conduct several mobile vaccination clinics in an effort to reach underserved communities in rural Maine. The first clinic will be at Oxford Casino from April 12-16, while others will follow in locations across the state, including Fryeburg, Turner, Old Town, Calais and Madawaska. Appointments are required and the clinics are expected to administer 250 shots per day of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
After months of pleading to be included, a handful of smaller, independent doctors' offices received batches of COVID-19 vaccine this week as state officials consider tapping more primary care physicians to inoculate their patients.
The state has been looking ways to increase vaccination options in underserved areas of the state, in part because there remains a wide geographic disparity. In Cumberland County, for instance, 74 percent of residents 60 or older have been fully vaccinated, which is the highest percentage of any county. In nearby Androscoggin County, the percentage is the state's lowest, only 50 percent.