Maine reported 426 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths Monday, the same day the first vaccines arrived in the state.

It was the fifth time Maine has logged more than 400 new COVID-19 cases in one day and all of them have occurred since Dec. 7.

The first vaccines, produced by Pfizer, arrived in Maine on Monday morning, with 975 doses delivered to Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland and another 975 doses to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Other hospitals and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention were expected to get about 4,000 additional doses either late Monday or Tuesday. The initial batch of 12,675 doses shipped to Maine will go to health care workers most at risk of exposure to COVID-19, and to nursing homes.

Some states immediately started vaccinating health care workers Monday, with a nurse in Long Island, New York, one of the first to receive the first of two doses.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while the arrival of the vaccine is good news, it will be months before they become widely available in Maine and across the country. The 1,950 doses represent a tiny fraction of the 2.6 million doses it would take to vaccinate everyone in Maine with a two-dose vaccine.

A testing technician for Promerica Health emerges from a curtain at a mobile testing facility at Portland Jetport after dropping off a sample for the lab. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Meanwhile, the United States surpassed 300,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, exceeding the more than 291,000 in the U.S. military who died in combat during World War II.

“Let’s not forget the storm, even as the sun is emerging,” Shah said.

Later this week, the Food and Drug Administration will likely approve a second vaccine, developed by Massachusetts-based Moderna, followed by distribution of that vaccine as early as next week. In the next three weeks, Maine is expected to receive more than 70,000 vaccine doses, most of which will go to front-line health care workers and nursing home residents.

Shah said vaccine distribution is a “massive undertaking and there will be bumps in the road” even though state agencies, hospitals and nursing homes have been preparing for months for initial shipments to arrive.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 16,349 cases of COVID-19, and 259 deaths. The 42 deaths so far in December is on pace to exceed the 67 deaths in November, which previously was the worst month in Maine for COVID-19 deaths. Monday’s deaths were a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s, both from York County.

Maine reached another peak Monday in current hospitalizations, with 198 in the hospital with COVID-19, 56 of them in intensive care units.

The seven-day daily average of new cases stood at 368.7 on Monday, compared to 290.4 a week ago and 172.9 a month ago. Of the new cases on Monday, 105 were in Androscoggin County, the highest one-day increase for the county that includes Lewiston and Auburn since the pandemic began. York County had 78 new cases, while Cumberland County saw an increase of 69 cases. Oxford County had 56 new cases.

Shah said that with cases, hospitalizations and deaths increasing, Maine people should remember to keep themselves safe by following good public health practices while waiting for vaccines to become more widely available. Wear masks, wash hands frequently and avoid gatherings.

“Even when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to remember, you are still in a tunnel,” Shah said. “There are many steps ahead of us.”

He said despite Maine’s worrisome trends, it is still doing better than most states. Maine’s seven-day average of new cases was 26.7 per 100,000 population, third-lowest in the country, with only Vermont and Hawaii having lower rates, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Thirteen states had rates at least four times higher than Maine’s with Rhode Island topping the list at 117.9 cases per 100,000 population.

But trends in Maine could easily become much worse.

“What’s happened in other states could happen here,” Shah said. “We need to do everything in our power today to keep ourselves shored up and safe and we can do that by keeping our guard up.”

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