May 27—Starting next week, MaineHealth will bring pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics to local businesses, the latest effort to help address challenges with getting younger people vaccinated.
From 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, visitors to Becky's Diner on Commercial Street in Portland can receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If they do, they'll also walk away with a $15 gift certificate to the diner that's usable the same day.
"Becky's Diner caters to a wide variety of people. Our hope is that bringing the vaccine to our business will help it reach a segment of the population that has not received a vaccination for what is likely a wide range of reasons," owner Becky Rand said in a statement. "The restaurant industry, like so many other industries, has seen a lot of changes over the past year due to COVID-19. The vaccination effort that has been put forth will lead us back to a sense of normalcy that the whole community can look forward to. We are thrilled to play a small role in that effort."
MaineHealth, the state's largest health care system, is working on partnering with other businesses throughout its network and will release more information about places and dates when they are finalized, spokesman John Porter said.
In general, MaineHealth has been looking to partner with businesses that might appeal to younger adults and those in rural areas. Additional venues could include concert halls, breweries, restaurants and churches.
State health officials reported 122 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, marking the seventh consecutive day the state saw fewer than 175 cases. No additional deaths were reported.
The seven-day daily case average now sits at 129, which is the lowest it has been since late February. That's down from 267 two weeks ago and 360 cases this time last month. Cases have been trending downward across the country, too, as vaccinations and warmer weather have had a noticeable impact on transmission. The most recent seven-day average in the United States is about 22,000 cases, the lowest it has been since last June.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 67,416 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 825 deaths in Maine, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the positive case trends, deaths and hospitalizations remain high, although both are lagging indicators, which means any decline in those numbers would come two or more weeks after cases come down.
Over the last month, the state is still averaging close to two deaths per day, which is up slightly from the previous month but still shy of the peak months of December and January, when more than six people died on average each day from COVID-19.
As for hospitalizations, there were 112 people in the hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, a decrease of six from the day before. Of those, 44 are in critical care and 19 are on ventilators. The number of people hospitalized hasn't fallen below 100 since April 17 and, among those who are being hospitalized in recent weeks, nearly all are unvaccinated.
Maine's vaccination rate is still among the highest in the country, along with all other New England states. CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Wednesday that vaccines have been remarkably effective at protecting people against COVID-19. Among those who have been vaccinated, 99.96 percent have not contracted the virus, he said.
There also are clear correlations emerging in counties that have higher rates of transmission and lower rates of vaccination.
According to Maine CDC data, the counties with the highest case rates over the last 28 days are: Androscoggin, Kennebec, Piscataquis, Somerset and Oxford. All except Kennebec are in the top five for counties with the lowest vaccination rates.
As of Thursday morning, Maine had administered a total of 709,636 first doses, accounting for 59.9 percent of the eligible population over 12, and 688,265 final doses, representing 58.1 percent of those 12 and over.
Despite the progress, the state has seen vaccinations decline for six consecutive weeks and is struggling to make significant gains with younger individuals, even amid a shift in strategy toward smaller, more flexible sites and the introduction of incentives.
Among those 50 and older, 80 percent have had either a first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That's at or above the level needed for so-called herd immunity.
However, among those 12-49, the rate is 52 percent. Children under 12 are still likely months from being eligible for a vaccine.
In addition to the MaineHealth initiative featuring businesses, the Maine CDC announced last week that any business interested in partnering with the state on hosting a smaller clinic on site should reach out. Any businesses or organization that has at least 10 people who need a vaccination can request a clinic.
The state also continues to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a mobile vaccination clinic that has been setting up in underserved areas. On Thursday, the clinic rolled into Milbridge in Washington County, where it will stay through Saturday.
From there, it will go even further east to Calais next Tuesday through Thursday and then to the northernmost point of Maine, Madawaska from June 5-7. No appointment is necessary.