Maine’s health care providers have begun scheduling appointments this week so seniors 70 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Major health care networks – including MaineHealth, Central Maine Healthcare, InterMed and Northern Light Health among others – say vaccine clinics are imminent. MaineHealth sent out an email to 300,000 patients last week to let them know that patients 70 and older could expect to begin making appointments this week or next week.

Whether Mainers should call or go online to schedule an appointment now or in the next week or so depends on the health care provider. Gov. Janet Mills’ office published a list online Monday of where those 70 and older can schedule an appointment. The list is expected to be updated as more health care networks set up systems to make appointments.

The website lists 18 providers that will be offering vaccinations, and reminds patients to have proof of eligibility handy. The vaccines are free, but your health care provider may want your insurance information.

MaineHealth was flooded with more than 18,000 calls Monday, the first day people could call for an appointment, said John Porter, spokesman for the health care network. Maine’s statewide weekly supply is about 18,000 doses.

“We are making appointments, but the demand way exceeds the supply right now,” Porter said. “Patient vaccinations are rolling out across the system this week.”

Porter asked those under 70 to not call the appointment number, but to check with the MaineHealth website or the Maine governor’s office COVID-19 website.

“We are just getting our clinics up and going,” Porter said. “We won’t have as many appointments available this week as we will next week and the week after that.”

MaineHealth is the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and a large hospital and health care network across much of the state. Those 70 and older can call for an appointment at 877-780-7545. Porter said the vaccinations are available to the general public, not just MaineHealth patients.

A few locations for vaccination sites have been announced on the website, such as Stearns High School in Millinocket, the Patten Fire Department and the Knights of Columbus halls in Madawaska and Fort Kent. But most providers simply list the municipality where vaccinations will be given.

The rollout comes after Mills announced last week that those 70 and older and younger adults with high-risk health conditions would be moved closer to the front of the line for vaccinations.

Maine reported 317 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and three additional deaths. It was the third day in a row with comparatively lower case counts, although it’s not clear yet whether the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend contributed to a lag in reporting cases.

But with 317 new cases on Monday following 438 cases on Saturday and 340 on Sunday, the case counts are much lower than the more than 800 per day that were reported three days in a row last week. The seven-day averages have exceeded 500 daily cases since Jan. 6.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency lab that processes tests was open over the weekend and on Monday, but it’s possible national labs not affiliated with the Maine CDC could have been affected by the holiday weekend.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, is expected to brief the media at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The media briefings that had been occurring on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays have been shifted to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 609.3 on Monday, compared to 520.4 a week ago and 447.3 a month ago. Nationally, case counts continue to be high, and the country had recorded about 390,000 deaths since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations and deaths lag cases, so Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Biden administration’s incoming U.S. CDC director, said on Sunday to expect a grim month ahead.

“By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country,” Walensky told CBS News on Sunday.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 33,876 cases of COVID-19 and 514 deaths in Maine. The new variant of the novel coronavirus has not yet been detected in Maine, but Massachusetts on Sunday became the second New England state, after Connecticut, to report a case of the variant from the United Kingdom. The variant is not more deadly, but it is more contagious and has led to spikes in cases in the U.K. and Ireland. The Massachusetts case involved a woman in her 20s from Boston who returned to the United States this month after visiting the U.K.

This week, details of Maine’s expanded vaccination plans are expected to be released, including for those 70 and older, who are being moved higher on the priority list.

The state is in the middle of Phase 1A of the vaccination program, which includes immunizing health care workers, paramedics, and staff and residents of nursing homes.

Parts of Phase 1B will start before Phase 1A is finished, officials with the Maine CDC said.

Phase 1B will include seniors 70 and older, younger adults with high-risk health conditions and front-line essential workers, such as teachers, postal workers and grocery store clerks. Seniors 70 and older are being prioritized, and even though front-line essential workers are in Phase 1B, some of those workers may be vaccinated later.

President-elect Joe Biden last week promised to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the mass vaccination effort, setting up thousands of vaccination sites across the country. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, has signed onto a letter by 34 senators to waive a requirement that states provide 25 percent in matching funds for FEMA services used to respond to the pandemic. King said in a news release that move could potentially save Maine $35 million.

Meanwhile, Maine has administered 79,149 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with 67,289 first doses and 11,860 second doses. Currently, there are 194 people hospitalized in Maine for COVID-19, with 63 in intensive care.

Biden has promised to ramp up delivery of the vaccines, as state officials, including those in Maine, have complained that shipments have stayed relatively flat when they were expecting much higher number of doses per week by now. Maine has been getting about 18,000 doses per week from the federal government.

The deaths reported on Monday include one resident of Hancock County and two residents of Penobscot County. Two of the people who died were men, while one was a woman. One person who died was in their 50s, while the other two were in their 70s.

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