Maine closed out the work week with another low daily tally of new COVID-19 cases, continuing a downward trend that offers promise the pandemic may finally be receding.
State health officials reported just 38 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and one additional death. Five counties reported zero new cases. It was the second-lowest total since last October; the lowest was Monday. In the last 13 days, new cases have gone over 100 just once.
The seven-day rolling case average now stands at 62, which is down from 127 two weeks ago and from 304 cases on average this time last month. At peak this spring, the seven-day average rose as high as 470 cases.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 68,487 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 844 deaths, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Both are among the lowest per capita of any state.
Hospitalizations have reached their lowest point in seven months. As of Friday, there were 45 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19, including 24 in critical care and 14 on ventilators. That number has been cut in half in just the last 11 days.
Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday that although hospitalizations are falling, “those who need hospitalization are trending younger, and often sicker, requiring longer stays.” Most of the recently hospitalized also are unvaccinated.
As for vaccinations, Maine still trails only Vermont in states with the highest percentage of population fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg, but the pace has slowed considerably over the last two weeks, averaging between 5,000 and 6,000 shots per day. That’s about half the daily average from this time last month.
Overall, the state has administered 730,573 first doses of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, representing 61.7 percent of the eligible population 12 or older, and 739,795 final doses, accounting for 62.5 percent of eligible residents. Included in the final doses are 77,339 shots of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Disparities remain in vaccination rates among different counties and within different age groups. Counties that are more rural and conservative have much lower rates than those in southern Maine and along the coast, and younger adults still appear far less eager than older Mainers to get vaccinated.
In Cumberland County, the vaccination rate is 75 percent among those eligible; in Somerset County, it’s just 49 percent. Over the last 14 days, Somerset County’s rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita is the highest of any county, while Cumberland County’s is the second-lowest, behind Knox County, which also has a high vaccination rate.
Among Maine residents 50 or older, 78 percent are now fully vaccinated, which is at or above the threshold needed for herd immunity. Among those between the ages of 12-49, the rate falls to 47 percent.
Although progress on vaccinations has stalled, state officials and health care organizations are still working to entice those who have yet to get theirs, including studying incentive programs in other states. Part of the new strategy involves smaller pop-up clinics at businesses and other gathering places.
On Thursday, a mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up at Rising Tide Brewery in Portland to offer shots free of charge to anyone with or without an appointment. A FEMA spokesman said 30 shots were administered Thursday.
The mobile unit will stay at the popular brewery through Sunday and will be offering shots of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
Another brewery, Maine Beer Company in Freeport, announced Thursday that it was partnering with MaineHealth on two pop-up vaccination clinics. The first will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16. The second will be the following Wednesday, June 23, also from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for which only those 18 and older are eligible.
This story will be updated.