State health officials reported 203 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, continuing a modest but neverless concerning upward trend over the last few weeks.
No additional deaths were reported, but it was the third time in the last six days that cases have eclipsed 200.
Initially, the state reported a much lower daily total, which turned out to be incomplete because of a data transmission problem, a Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman said.
The seven-day daily case average increased to 193, up from 170 two weeks ago and from 142 this time last month. Cases peaked at an average of more than 600 daily in mid-January after a post-holiday surge, then dropped steadily for weeks before leveling off.
Younger people are accounting for an increasing number of cases in Maine. People in their 20s now make up the highest percentage of positive cases, 18.1 percent, followed closely by those under the age of 20, 15.7 percent of all cases. Maine residents over the age of 70 make up for just 11.7 percent of cases.
An age shift has occurred since last May, when residents under the age of 40 made up just 23.7 percent of cases, while those 60 and older accounted for 42.7 percent. Now, people under 40 account for 48.2 percent of cases and those 60 and older just 23.3 precent.
There have now been 47,591 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 725 deaths since the pandemic reached Maine a little over one year ago. Across the United States, there have been nearly 30 million cases and more than 535,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both totals dwarf those of any other country.
Hospitalizations, which had been dropping since peaking above 200 in mid-January, have started to climb again in Maine. As of Wednesday, there were 84 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19, including 25 in critical care and eight on a ventilator. The total had dipped as low as 62 on March 1 but has been rising steadily since. In all, 1,612 Maine people have been hospitalized at some point.
Meanwhile, Maine continues to make progress on vaccinations. As of Wednesday morning, the state had administered 524,214 shots. Of those, 330,123 were first doses, which represents 24.6 percent of the population, and 194,091 individuals, or 14.4 percent, have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 77 percent of Mainers over the age of 70 and 43 percent of those between the ages of 60-69 have gotten their first dose.
Maine is now averaging about 13,500 doses per day and ranks 8th among states in the percentage of population fully vaccinated, according to a state-by-state tracker by Bloomberg News.
The state continues to prioritize residents over the age of 60, as well as teachers, school staff and child care staff. Those between the ages of 50 and 59 are set to become eligible on April 1 and all adult Mainers will be able to schedule an appointment by May 1.
Health officials also announced Tuesday that residents of Maine’s Department of Corrections facilities who are over the age of 60 — about 150 inmates — will be eligible for vaccinations starting next week. The state previously had not said when inmates would be vaccinated. Maine’s two largest outbreaks at single sites have been at a state prison and a county jail and, more recently, seven inmates and one employee at the Maine State Prison have tested positive for the virus.
Additional mass vaccination sites opened this week in Auburn and Dover-Foxcroft, adding to a growing list of options. The state now has more than 200 sites across the state, which includes dozens of retail pharmacies that are offering shots through a partnership with the federal government and are targeting teachers at the moment.
Maine has received roughly 45,000 vaccine doses in each of the last two weeks, which is down from 55,000 doses three weeks ago after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved. Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday he expects a similar amount for next week, but by late March or early April, the volume is projected to increase dramatically.
He also said the state is working with vaccinators to see which have the capacity to increase staff or to keep clinics open for longer hours once more doses arrive.
“My message to vaccination sites across Maine is, ‘Let’s drill the well before we get thirsty,’” Shah said.
Health experts across the country are hoping vaccinations accelerate to the point where they keep another case spike at bay. The emergence of COVID-19 variants, which have spread in other countries and have arrived here as well, are problematic.
“It’s going to be a close call,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told CNN on Tuesday. “We are vaccinating really well, that’s the good news. These variants are spreading pretty quickly across the country, that’s the bad news.”
“To me, I think the vaccine should win out,” he added. “Here’s the big but: What Texas, Mississippi, other states are doing to relax and get rid of the mask orders and kind of act like everything is back to normal, that is definitely coming down on the side of the variants.”
Maine Gov. Janet Mills last week announced that she was loosening some pandemic restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings but is keeping the mask mandate and other measures in place.
This story will be updated.