The Auburn Mall has been the object of some complaints about noncompliance with Maine COVID-19 guidelines. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — State health officials reported 38 new cases of COVID-19 in Androscoggin County on Friday and the death of two residents, a man and a woman, one in their 70s and one in their 80s.

The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention reported 268 new cases across the state, but the high number of hospitalizations this week is a reminder of the mid-month surge in cases in Maine and in Androscoggin County.

A total of 121 people in the state were hospitalized with the disease as of Friday morning, according to data tracked by the Maine CDC. Fifty-nine were in critical care, the highest since Jan. 26. Fifteen were on ventilators.

On Thursday afternoon, Central Maine Medical Center reported 29 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, including 15 of whom are in critical care and two on ventilators. The Lewiston hospital saw record-breaking numbers all of April, including an all-time high on April 23 with 31 patients. Prior to April, the last time the hospital had this many patients in one day was Jan. 28, when it recorded 26 hospitalizations.

Patients in critical care were also high in April. The number of those patients at CMMC has not dropped below the teens since April 9, when there were nine patients in the intensive care unit. On April 18, 19 and 24, there were 18 patients in the ICU, which appears to be an all-time high for the hospital.

Since the pandemic began, Androscoggin County has recorded 7,148 cases of COVID-19. According to the most recent ZIP code-based data from the Maine CDC, the populations of Lewiston and Auburn combined account for 55% of the county’s population, but 61% of all of its positive cases, or 4,151 cases out of 6,807. That data is updated weekly and not all cases reported in the state are mappable by ZIP code.

As of the Wednesday update to the ZIP code-based data, Lewiston had 2,676 cases, or 39.3% of all cases in the county. Auburn recorded 1,475 cases, or 21.7% of all cases.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said in response to a recent report from The New York Times that showed the L-A area has the country’s third worst daily average of new cases in the past two weeks, that “it absolutely dumbfounds me on why our numbers are up.”

Lewiston’s Code Enforcement Officer and Public Health Inspector said Friday afternoon that complaints of business noncompliance with COVID protocols have increased in the past three weeks.

“Recently, the majority of complaints, followed up by investigations, are related to the concern of food service employees that have been exposed or considered a close contact to positive cases of COVID-19 co-workers and patrons,” Louis Lachance wrote in an email.

Reports of alleged noncompliance with protocols through a Department of Economic and Community Development form are down overall in the past few months, Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jackie Farwell said.

The complaints the state does receive have also been more focused on COVID-19 positive patients among staff and/or patrons, rather than masking or social distancing, as of late, Farwell said.

On Thursday evening, some social media users reported that Denny’s restaurant in Auburn suddenly shut down, but it was not clear why. On Friday, signs posted to the locked doors read “we are temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Phone calls to the location went unanswered.

A spokesperson from the Maine CDC said there was no open outbreak investigation there as of Friday morning.

Androscoggin County’s cumulative case rate Friday was 663.8 cases per 10,000 people. The counties with the next highest case rates are York with 605.8 cases per 10,000 people and Oxford County with 559.5. The statewide rate is 457.4 cases per 10,000 people.

As of Friday, 47% of all Mainers have received at least one dose of the vaccination and 38% are fully inoculated. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said at Thursday’s media briefing that he expects that two-thirds of all Mainers will be vaccinated by Memorial Day or sooner, if vaccine supply increases in the coming weeks.

Androscoggin County still lags behind, ranking 11 out of Maine’s 16 counties for percentage of the population that has received their first dose. Just short of 40% have gotten their first shot and 31.8% have received their final shot, which puts the county second to last for final doses.

Oxford County is last in Maine for final inoculations, with only 31.2% of residents fully inoculated, and 13th for first shots, at 39.4%.

Ken Flagg of Strong reads the notice Friday on the door at Denny’s restaurant in Auburn informing customers it is temporarily closed. Flagg said he comes to the restaurant everytime he’s in the Twin Cities. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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