Movers took equipment and other items from Central Maine Medical Center in March and brought them to a staging area at the Auburn Mall. Central Maine Healthcare, in collaboration with the state, Auburn, Lewiston and other community partners, opened the Auburn Mall vaccination site March 17. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON – There are promising signs in the downward trend of Androscoggin County’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases, but high hospitalization numbers at Central Maine Medical Center may be an indication that it’s too early to say if the county has snapped out of its worst surge in cases to date.

On Friday, Maine reported 371 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, including 61 in Androscoggin County. That’s a slight reprieve from 123 cases on April 18, an all-time high for new cases in a single day. The county broke records again Tuesday when its seven-day average reached 90.4 cases per day. By Friday, the average had gone down to 76 cases per day.

Statewide hospitalizations appear to be falling at similar rates, but Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at Thursday’s media briefing that the surge in admissions over the past week and a half are “of concern.”

The state also reported two deaths Friday, both women, one in her 20s and the other in her 50s.

Across the state, young people make up the majority of new cases. Individuals 20 years and younger accounted for 26% of all new cases reported Friday. People in their 30s, 40s and 20s, respectively, accounted for 18%, 16% and 14%.

“Previously, the COVID patients we were seeing were mostly in their 70s and 80s,” Kris Chaisson, Central Maine Medical Center’s vice president of Nursing and Patient Care Services, said Friday afternoon.

“But in recent weeks a growing proportion are under 60 and even under 50,” Chaisson said.

The 250-bed medical center in Lewiston reported 22 hospitalizations Thursday, seven less than Monday’s 29 patients, the most COVID-19 patients the hospital has ever cared for at one time. It recorded its second highest patient count the following day, at 27.

Since CMMC began recording the number of COVID-19 patients per day over a year ago, it has only seen 20 or more patients in a single day 30 times. Twelve of those instances were within the past two weeks alone.

“These younger patients are sicker than they had been previously and have been needing more intensive treatment and oxygen therapy,” Chaisson said.

Though young people account for the majority of new cases, the rates of people in their 50s and below in Androscoggin County receiving either their first or final dose of the vaccine are on par or better than the statewide average.

The only demographics where the county lags behind are people in their 60s and 70s. Those groups trail the statewide rate by nearly 2%.

All Mainers age 16 and older became eligible to receive the vaccine on April 7. Prior to March, only those 70-plus and front-line workers could get the vaccine.

Still, the county ranks last in administering final doses among Maine’s 16 counties.

The large-scale vaccination clinic at Auburn Mall, which is run by CMMC, was the last to open in the state on March 17. Other large-scale clinics, such as the ones at the Portland Expo or Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center, opened weeks or months earlier.

“We continue to see strong demand at our high-volume site at the Auburn Mall,” Dr. John Alexander, CMMC’s chief medical officer, said.

“With larger deliveries from the state, we have been able to open up more slots and it’s been easier for people to get appointments,” he said.

Also on Friday, the CDC and Department of Education downgraded Androscoggin County’s risk level from “green” to “yellow,” along with Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties.

A “yellow” categorization means that a county has “an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread” and that the DOE suggests a hybrid educational model where students are part-time in-person and part-time remote.

Students return from April vacation Monday. As of the latest update to the DOE’s COVID-19 dashboard, Edward Little High School in Auburn has had 18 cases in the last 30 days, the most of any Maine school, and is considered an outbreak site by the CDC.

Leavitt Area High School in Turner had 12 cases, tied for third highest case numbers. Lewiston High School and Poland Regional High School also had nine cases each.

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