LEWISTON — As COVID-19 cases rise dramatically in Androscoggin County, it’s getting a boost in vaccine supply.

“We’ve got more work to do in Androscoggin County,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said Thursday at his regular news briefing.

Help is needed.

On Thursday, state statistics showed Androscoggin County continued to have the second-highest rate of positive cases of all 16 counties: 5.3%. That compared to the state average of 3.9%. The New York Times reported that of metro areas across the country, Lewiston-Auburn was the third highest in new cases.

Additionally, Lewiston School Superintendent Jake Langlais reported Thursday an “uptick in COVID-19 positives. We have had positive (COVID-19) reports come in each day this week.”

Several schools “are at capacity” for having just enough staff to keep some schools open,” he said.

Connors Elementary School in Lewiston will conduct remote classes Friday because there’s not enough staff to cover, Langlais said. “We could have two more schools with part- or full-remote unfolding now.”

During Thursday’s biweekly news briefing, Shah said the Auburn Mall clinic is getting an additional 1,170 first-dose Pfizer vaccines, bringing the weekly total to 3,510.

In recent weeks, the Auburn Mall has received 2,340 first-doses, which is smaller than other large-scale Maine clinics.

“The Auburn Mall has been getting two trays of Pfizer (1,170 per tray) of first doses. But in my conversations with them over the past two days, they’ve expanded their capacity to administer more, and we’ve got more work to do in Androscoggin County,” Shah said.

He added that the CDC “is scouring the land to see if we can find additional doses not just for the Auburn Mall location, but for other providers in Androscoggin County as well.”

Statewide, demand outpaces supply, he said.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston also announced Thursday it will hold a two- or three-day mass vaccination clinic in downtown Lewiston during the April vacation.

And on Monday a mobile vaccination clinic provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state will be at the Oxford Casino on Route 26 in Oxford providing shots. Shah said Monday and Tuesday appointments were already full, but there are openings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Asked about the New York Times report that cited Lewiston-Auburn as having high rates of new COVID -19 cases, Shah said he had not yet reviewed the report, but that nationwide Lewiston-Auburn is a small metro area with a rather large outbreak at Lewiston’s Bates College.

“This is largely a function of what’s going on at Bates,” Shah said. He said he’s spoken to the college president and the college “is taking this seriously. They’re making sure they’re on top of this.”

There’s another outbreak of four cases in Lewiston-Auburn of a long-term care facility. Shah said he didn’t yet have full details on that.

Two weeks ago the daily average number of Mainers getting shots was 11,184; the current daily average is now 15,828, a 40% increase. That is significant progress, Shah said, with more than 30% of the population already fully vaccinated.

What the state is not seeing is pronounced transmission in schools.

“Indeed the risk of having COVID in school is lower than the risk of getting COVID in the general community. What we’re seeing is kids getting COVID outside of the school setting and being detected” at school, he said.

Jay Dufour, assistant principal at Lewiston High School, agreed. “My take is the rise in cases has to do with events outside of school,” he said.

With a growing number of Mainers getting vaccinated, and the state’s mask mandate in public places still in effect, Shah was asked why there are so many more cases, especially given that more Mainers are vaccinated.

Based on his discussions with the Maine CDC team and experts around the country, rising cases seem to be caused by new variants which are more contagious. And possibly less mask wearing.

More younger people are getting infected, according to state data. The average age of someone getting COVID-19 in Maine was 44 in January; it was 37 in March.

“What we’re seeing is younger folks getting together, they haven’t been vaccinated yet, they may not be wearing a mask, that’s where some of the transmission is occurring,” Shah said.

With the variants masks are more important than ever, he said.

“Now is not the time to chuck your mask,” he said.

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