Chuck Rich of Waterboro gets vaccinated by David Garriepy at the MaineHealth vaccination clinic in Sanford on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine health officials reported 225 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, but no additional deaths, as the state’s busiest vaccination week nears an end.

It’s the fourth time in the last three weeks that daily cases have gone over 200 – another reminder that virus transmission isn’t vanishing immediately with the increase in vaccinations.

And vaccinations are expected to slow down next week after several weeks of steady increases. Maine learned Thursday that its allotment of vaccines for next week is going to be significantly smaller. That news comes just as teachers and child care staff became eligible, joining residents 60 and older.

Maine will receive a total of 33,500 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but nothing from Johnson & Johnson, which had provided Maine with 15,000 doses this week. The state could still get additional doses that go directly to retail pharmacies as part of an arrangement with the federal government, but those allotments have not yet been finalized. This week, more than 55,000 doses arrived in Maine – the highest weekly total to date.

Also Friday, Gov. Janet Mills announced an updated phased-in plan to ease travel restrictions and allow businesses to open at greater capacity as the summer tourist season approaches. Most other public health measures, including the mask mandate, will remain in place.

The seven-day daily case average has been increasing slightly and stood at 167 on Friday, compared to 138 cases two weeks, or one incubation period, ago. This time last month, daily cases averaged nearly 300 after peaking at more than 600 in mid-January. Although cases have dropped dramatically since the post-holiday surge, they have been leveling off in many states, prompting concerns that the public might be relaxing before vaccines have a chance to work.

In all, there have been 45,452 confirmed or probable cases in Maine since last March and 704 people have died with COVID-19, according to data tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitalizations have been leveling off as well. As of Friday, 74 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 24 in critical care and 10 on a ventilator. Over the last two weeks, hospitalizations have ranged from a low of 62 to a high of 75 after peaking at more than 200 in mid-January.

The state had administered 391,148 vaccinations as of Friday morning. Of those, 253,135 were first doses, which accounts for nearly 19 percent of the state’s population, and 138,013 people have been fully vaccinated, or just over 10 percent of residents. Roughly 72 percent of Mainers over the age of 70 have now received one shot.

Going forward, individuals who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot, will be counted in the fully vaccinated category. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna both require two shots, which are taken three to four weeks apart.

According to a state-by-state tracker of vaccination efforts by Bloomberg News, Maine has slipped in recent weeks and now ranks in the bottom half of states with 24.89 shots administered per 100 people. Maine had been in the top 10 last month.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah on Thursday acknowledged that troubling trend and said he’s working to find out why it’s happening. But he also said the increasing number of vaccine options – both large-scale and pharmacy-size – should help improve the efficiency of vaccinations.

Teachers and school and child care staff became eligible for vaccinations this week following a directive from President Biden to states to prioritize them. They join residents between the ages of 60 and 69. There are roughly 52,000 school personnel and child care staff in Maine, as well as nearly 200,000 residents in their 60s.

For the time being, retail pharmacies have been instructed to offer appointments exclusively to teachers, and school and child care staff.

On Friday afternoon, Mills and Shah toured the MaineHealth vaccination clinic at Scarborough Downs, where more than 1,000 people are receiving shots each day. Mills said during a media briefing after the tour that she is relieved to come out of her bubble after a long year of being mostly isolated, and to hear from others who feel the same.

“I’m so thrilled with the look on people’s faces, the exhilaration they feel especially after the second shot, the relief and the feeling they can live again,” she said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this story 

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