ELLSWORTH — As the positive COVID-19 case rate falls, the number of Mainers receiving vaccinations is rising, positive news offset by a second case of the highly contagious B117 variant found in York County. This case has no links to the first case identified in Franklin County last week, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Nirav Shah said on Feb. 16.
Shah also reported a positivity rate of pre-Thanksgiving levels: 1.57 percent over a seven-day period. The data is based on the PCR tests with the testing volume at 599 per 100,000 people.
As of Tuesday, 249,913 vaccine doses had been administered in Maine. One in eight state residents, or 13 percent, has received a first dose, and one in 20, or 5.5 percent, has received the full two doses.
The newest numbers come as Walmart continues to provide vaccinations, the federal government is releasing 2 million more doses this week and the state attorney general is warning against providers administering the vaccine to ineligible people.
“This advisory comes in response to reports of improper administration by large providers and notes that ‘the Office of the Maine Attorney General will consider seeking legal and administrative sanctions against providers who administer the COVID-19 vaccine to persons who do not meet applicable eligibility criteria,’” Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said in a Feb. 16 statement.
Public health nurse Josie Ellis of the Maine CDC keeps a list of eligible citizens to make sure only residents 70 and over receive the vaccines she carries, including the extra dose(s) that the vials contain. Ellis was giving shots in the Bucksport Senior Center parking lot on Feb. 12 as cars pulled in for their appointments.
“At the end we often end up with that extra dose,” she said. Ellis runs down her list to find an eligible recipient, she said. Only as a last resort does that dose go to someone younger than 70.
In Ellsworth, plans for a mass vaccination site to serve area residents continue, said Kelley Columber, director of communications for Northern Light Maine Coast and Blue Hill hospitals.
“Northern Light Maine Coast and Blue Hill hospitals are looking at the possibility of an offsite community vaccination clinic and working to identify a location in Ellsworth,” Columber said. “This would function similarly to what is happening at the Cross Center in Bangor, but on a smaller scale.”
Columber’s statement follows an announcement earlier this month by City Manager Glenn Moshier that Ellsworth was partnering with Northern Light for the clinic. The American was unable to reach Moshier for an update by press time.
New school testing options
Shah was joined at the briefing by Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin, who announced new testing options for schools. The state will receive 250,000 Bynex Now rapid antigen tests over the next three months prioritized for schools. The tests provide results in 15 minutes and are aimed at increasing in-school learning.
Only 5 percent of Maine schools experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, with the largest outbreak at 10 cases, Lambrew noted. “Maine’s approach to school reopening and in-person learning is working,” she said.
Makin echoed Lambrew’s positive note.
“When we opened school in the fall, we opened prior to their even being a hope of a vaccine this year,” she said. “We opened with thinking we wouldn’t have the capacity for any testing.”
Both acknowledged the toll the pandemic restriction has had on the mental health of students and pointed to state resources.
“We do know this is a very concerning trend,” Makin said, noting an increase in anxiety and stress as “unfortunate byproducts of the isolation they’re experiencing.”
The DOE offers a free online, open-source social emotional learning module for students’ families, alongside the Department of Health and Human Services’ StrengthenME program, which provides “a range of resources for people of all ages, in different positions, including teachers,” Makin said.
All Maine school districts are now considered “green,” the lowest risk level and the guidepost for increasing in-person learning.