Cathy Godwin, left, and Tony Lafreniere prepare medical supplies Tuesday before students arrive for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Poland Regional High School. The first dose of vaccine was offered to students Tuesday and other first doses will be offered Thursday from 8 to 11 a.m. Godwin is a nurse at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. Lafreniere is a pharmacy student at the University of New England. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON – As the state reaches significant milestones in the fight against COVID-19, Central and Western Maine continue to see high hospitalization numbers and struggle to catch up with the rest of the state in getting shots into arms.

State health officials reported 295 new cases of COVID-19, including 49 in Androscoggin County, 14 in Oxford County and 13 in Franklin County. There were no additional deaths.

Androscoggin County’s case rate per 10,000 people remains the highest in the state with 730.7 cases per 10,000 people as of Thursday. Oxford County ranks third highest at 598.4 cases. There are 486 cases per 10,000 people across the state.

The seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in Androscoggin County is 44.7, a decrease of 1.2 since Wednesday. The seven-day average in Oxford County is 14.7 and in Franklin County it is 5.3.

When adjusted for population, Androscoggin’s seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents as of Thursday is 4.13. That is a 24% decrease over the past week, but it is still higher than Oxford County’s average of 2.54, Franklin County’s average of 1.75 and the statewide average of 1.99.

Thursday’s seven-day statewide average of new cases per capita represents a 13% decrease over the past week.

Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday afternoon that Maine will lift all indoor and outdoor capacity and physical distancing restrictions on May 24, with the exception of indoor restaurants and bars where the 6-foot distancing requirement will remain in place.

“These changes align with the latest science and make sense for Maine at this point,” Mills said at a news conference.

Mills was joined by Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Jeanne Lambrew and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson.

Given the timing of the U.S. CDC’s announcement, Mills and Shah said they could not yet speak to how this might influence guidance in Maine but that masks are required indoors for all people regardless of vaccination status for the time being.

Mills said that creating county-by-county distinctions in the reopening guidelines is not a consideration.

“We haven’t considered that because summer is coming and people are traveling freely from state to state, county to county,” she said.

Though new cases are trending down, hospitalizations are still an area of concern Shah said, especially in rural areas and among the younger population.

There were 118 hospitalizations across the state Thursday, a slight decrease from a day earlier and the first time in two weeks hospitalizations have been this low. Forty eight of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are in critical care, 27 of whom are on a ventilator.

Shah said at a media briefing Wednesday that COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization appear to be younger, sicker and requiring longer hospital stays.

Central Maine Medical Center reported 10 confirmed COVID-19 patients in critical care Thursday, six of whom are connected to a ventilator. There are an additional 13 patients in non-ICU care at the hospital. Six of those patients have confirmed COVID-19 and seven are suspected and pending additional testing.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston has five patients with COVID-19 as of Thursday, one of whom is in critical care. There are no patients on ventilators.

CMMC’s 30-bed ICU is at capacity and one-third of St. Mary’s six-bed ICU is full, according to data that hospitals report to the Maine CDC daily. A hospital’s ICU capacity encompasses all patients, not just those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

In other news, the state reported Wednesday that over 70% of Mainers 18 years and older had received at least one shot of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

More than 49% of all Mainers have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday and 45.6% have gotten their final shot. When considering just the eligible population, or individuals 12 years and older, 55.8% have gotten their first dose and 51.8% their second.

Counties in Central and Western Maine remain in the bottom half of all Maine counties for getting shots into arms.

Out of the eligible population in Androscoggin County, 49.7% of residents have received at least one dose and 44.4% have completed their inoculations. In Oxford County, 46.6% and 42.8% of residents have their first and final shots, respectively, and in Franklin County, 45.1% and 44.2%.

Androscoggin County leads the region but is still 10th out of Maine’s 16 counties for first doses and 13th in the state for final inoculations.

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