Maine reported 467 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and four additional deaths, a slight easing of case counts that adds to signs the latest surge is starting to subside.
The seven-day average of daily new cases dipped to 519.9, down from 591.6 a week ago, but up from 316.7 a month ago.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 94,348 cases of COVID-19, and 1,070 deaths. While Maine’s trajectory appears to be headed downward, much of the rest of the United States has already experienced significant declines in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Maine is currently 14th highest in virus prevalence, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, with 41 cases per 100,000 population, compared to a nationwide average of 30 per 100,000 population.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland, said the trends are uneven in Maine, with higher spikes of the virus in low-vaccination counties even as counties with high vaccination rates, such as Cumberland County, have not seen as dramatic an increase in cases this fall.
“There’s a lot of variability,” Mills said. “Yes, overall our numbers are coming down, but there’s still pockets where there’s a lot of pandemic activity,” Mills said.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine continues to drop precipitously. As of Friday, there were 153 people hospitalized, including 46 in critical care and 22 on ventilators. Over the last two weeks, hospitalizations have decreased by 45 percent and the number of critical care patients has dropped by 80 percent.
Across the U.S., COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased from 81,725 on average two weeks ago to 63,921 now, or 28 percent, according to the U.S. CDC.
In Maine, the positivity rate has also declined, from about 6 percent a few weeks ago to 4.43 percent on Thursday. When positivity rates are lower, that’s a sign that most symptomatic cases of the disease circulating are being reported, which leads to public health strategies like isolation and quarantine being more effective at tamping down transmission.
Also Thursday, the Maine Department of Education released updated data on positive cases and outbreaks in public schools. There have now been 2,910 cases among staff and students since the school year began, an increase of 332 cases over last week. Five additional schools also reached outbreak status, bringing that total to 113.
Meanwhile, many parents are eagerly anticipating federal approval for COVID-19 vaccines for ages 5-11. Pfizer has submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration and formally asked for approval for elementary-aged children, and that approval could come as soon as shortly before or after Halloween. For those currently eligible for the vaccine, everyone 12 and older, 883,680 are fully vaccinated in Maine, representing 65.7 percent of the state’s 1.3 million population.
Among racial groups in Maine, Whites lag behind minority populations in vaccine uptake, with 59.9 percent of the White population fully immunized against COVID-19, compared to 83.9 percent of the Black population, 80.1 percent of Asians and 66 percent of the Native American population.
There’s also wide disparity in vaccination rates among counties in Maine, with Cumberland County at 76 percent of its total population immunized, and Knox and Lincoln counties clearing 70 percent vaccinated. At the other extreme, Franklin, Piscataquis and Somerset counties have 55 percent or less of its population immunized.
This story will be updated.