May 28—State health officials reported 128 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the seven-day average to its lowest point since early November.
No additional deaths were reported.
New infections of COVID-19 have been trending downward overall in Maine for the last five weeks. Friday marked the eighth consecutive day of fewer than 175 cases, although the state continues to see some variation from day to day. The totals for Monday and Tuesday both dipped below 100.
Maine's seven-day average stands at 123, going into the Memorial Day holiday weekend, down from a rolling average of 194 for the week ending May 20 and a peak of more than 470 in mid-April, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The springtime surge, which saw daily cases occasionally top 600, appears to be ebbing as vaccination rates slowly increase and restrictions are eliminated in time for a massive influx of out-of-state tourists.
There have been 67,544 confirmed or probable cases and at least 825 COVID-related deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020. Maine continues to have among the lowest infection and death rates in the country.
Hospitalizations, however, remain high. As of Friday, there were 111 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19, including 45 in critical care and 19 on ventilators. The number hasn't fallen below 100 on any day since April 17 and has been as high 134 during that time. More than 2,000 Maine people have been hospitalized at some point during the pandemic.
On the vaccination front, just shy of 53 percent of the state's 1.3 million residents had received their first shot of vaccine by Thursday evening, while 51.6 percent had received final doses. Those figures rise to 60.1 percent and 58.6 percent, respectively, when zeroing in on the age 12 and over population that is currently eligible for vaccination.
There also are clear signs that counties with high vaccination rates are seeing less virus transmission. Cumberland County, for instance, which has Maine's highest vaccination rate, has seen the fewest new cases per capita of any county in the last seven days, according to data from the Maine CDC.
Earlier this week, the administration of Gov. Janet Mills "retired" the roughly two dozen checklists that provided guidance to businesses and groups to prevent spread of the virus. Instead, the state plans to rely on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released recommendations on Friday that will affect a key sector of Maine's summer economy — summer camps.
The federal guidance says fully vaccinated campers should no longer be required to wear masks inside or outside but continues to recommend that unvaccinated children wear masks indoors. Additionally, the CDC says unvaccinated children should continue wearing masks in crowded outdoor settings where they have sustained contact with others. The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for children 12 and over.
Maine has more than 250 summer camps, at least 100 of which are overnight camps. Many of them chose not to open at all during the 2020 season but are hoping for a rebound in 2021.
Overall, Maine has among the highest vaccination rates in the country — ranking second in terms of the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated and fourth for the percentage that has received one dose, according to tracking by Bloomberg.
But the pace of that inoculation campaign has slowed considerably in recent weeks, prompting changes in strategy in order to reach the still-sizable chunk of the state's population that remains unvaccinated.
Starting next week, the state's largest health care provider, MaineHealth, will begin holding smaller pop-up vaccination clinics at local businesses in an effort to reach younger individuals. Some businesses are sweetening the deal by offering gift certificates or incentives for people who get a shot.
One such clinic will be held in partnership with Becky's Diner along Portland's waterfront from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Visitors who receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will receive a $15 gift certificate to Becky's that's usable the same day.
Meanwhile, a state-run incentive program is slated to expire over the holiday weekend, although Mills administration officials said this week that they are reviewing whether to continue or alter the program. People who receive their first shot of vaccine through Monday are eligible to receive a $20 gift card from L.L. Bean, a free hunting or fishing license, a one-day pass to state parks, or a complimentary ticket to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, the Portland Sea Dogs or the Oxford Plains Speedway.
Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.