Former U.S. Army Combat Medic John Stoddard watches his steps as he avoids a puddle on his way to the next vehicle in line Friday morning in Lewiston. He was on the front lines of a different sort in a mix of freezing rain and sleet as he checked IDs and a list to see where vehicles would line up at the Lewiston VA Clinic on Challenger Drive. Stoddard, a health technician, was one of several dozen health professionals and staff members outside in the rain coordinating and administering the COVID-19 vaccine to veterans who stayed in their vehicles for their shots. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Androscoggin County, which reported more COVID-19 cases Thursday than it’s had on any one day since January, has a coronavirus case rate that’s 36% above the state average.

At the same time, its vaccination rate is the lowest of any county in Maine, nearly 30% below the state average.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that a recent outbreak at Bates College in Lewiston was the driving force behind a recent rise in numbers in the county.

“That was accounting for the bulk of the increase in cases,” he said during a briefing.

But Bates, which tests every student several times a week, reports that it has had 114 cases among students since early February, 83 of them since mid-March.

On Thursday alone, Androscoggin County had 99 new cases. In the past week, it’s had 424 new cases.

By a large margin, most new cases in the county have not been at Bates, which imposed a 12-day lockdown to clamp down on the deadly disease. It ended the requirement that students stay in their rooms on Tuesday.

Shah acknowledged that Bates wasn’t the only problem spot.

“There are other outbreaks happening in Androscoggin County,” he said, “but to really get a better sense of what’s happening at a community level, versus what’s happening at the college, it would take us a bit more time to see how the cases evolve.”

The rising COVID numbers in the area have forced Lewiston’s public schools to go remote this week because they didn’t have the personnel to drive all the buses required for students to get to and from the classroom.

Lewiston isn’t alone in its quest to cope with the pandemic’s increasing impact.

Dr. Nirav Shah during Thursday’s online pandemic briefing. Video screenshot

The Bangor Daily News delved into zip code data from the Maine CDC this week and determined that five towns in Oxford and Androscoggin County have had higher infection rates than Lewiston during the past month: Norway, Mechanic Falls, Livermore, Minot and Sabattus.

The infection rate in Norway and Mechanic Falls the paper determined, trailed only Parsonsfield in York County during that period.

Shah said new variants of COVID-19 are likely playing a role in spreading the disease at a more rapid clip than in the past couple of months.

He said the disease, which killed a man in his 80s in Oxford County this week, is spreading everywhere in the state, from small towns to urban areas.

“It goes where there are people who are susceptible,” Shah said.

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