Recent COVID-19 zip code data released to the Morning Sentinel by the Maine Center for Disease Control corroborated anecdotal reports of a post-holiday case increase in some, but not all, towns in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

The Morning Sentinel analyzed 10 weeks of data with weekly snapshots of cumulative cases from Nov. 8, 2020, through Jan. 10, 2021, based on data from the most recent census.

No central Maine municipality saw as sharp a rise and as dramatic a fall in post-holiday COVID-19 cases than the town of Clinton.

With a population of 3,486, the town recorded six new COVID-19 cases from Nov. 8-29, 2020, the first three weeks of the sample. The week after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, brought nine new cases followed by three weeks, Dec. 6-26, of double-digit new cases, and then the totals went down over the last two weeks of the sample, Dec. 27 to Jan. 9.

During the initial three week span, the town saw one new case for every 1,743 residents. During the week of Dec. 6-13, Clinton reached a per-capita high of one new case for every 158 residents. It quickly leveled out, with a per capita increase three weeks later of one new case for every 871.5 people.

“It’s important to note that the ZIP code data reflect where people live, but not where they may have contracted the virus,” CDC spokesperson Robert Long wrote in an email. “So while more populous communities like Augusta and Waterville provide the virus with more opportunity to spread, because they are places where more people live in close proximity, residents of less populous communities should not let down their guard, because raw numbers are lower in their towns.”

The region’s two biggest municipalities, Augusta and Waterville, also experienced post-holiday increases. Augusta recorded an 89-case increase from the week of Thanksgiving to the week after Thanksgiving, which was the biggest increase the city saw within the 10-week period by more than 20 cases.

With Augusta’s 19,136 population, the per-capita average during after the holidays reached a high of one new case for every 215 residents the week after Thanksgiving. In the first three weeks of data, the per-capita average was one new case for every 662 residents.

Emergency management agencies across the state are assisting agencies ordering personal protective equipment and testing materials.

“PPE orders and testing swab orders are back up because the numbers are back up,” Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency Director Sean Goodwin said. “You can say, ‘Oh the holidays didn’t cause us trouble,’ but if you look at the numbers before and after it’s simple math.”

Waterville, with 15,722 residents, recorded a post-Thanksgiving increase of 43 new cases after averaging 21 cases over the first three weeks of the data sample. Waterville then recorded 44 and 53 new cases Dec. 6-12 and Dec. 13-19 before going down to 26 during Christmas week.

The next two weeks, Dec. 27 to Jan. 9, saw increases of 58 and 60 cases. Waterville averaged one case per 749 residents during the first three weeks of the data sample, but that number ticked up to one case per 266 residents over the last two weeks of data.

In Skowhegan, population 8,589, the town averaged 8.9 cases per week during the first eight weeks of the data sample, but added 17 new cases from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3 and 18 cases the following week. The jump from 8.9 to 17.5 reflects a per-capita increase from one case per 965 residents to one case per 490 residents.

Norridgewock and Mercer, which share a zip code and have a combined population of 4,033, did not see much of a post-Thanksgiving change, but saw their first double-digit increase in the weeks following Christmas, with 13 and 19 new cases from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9. The increase in cases boosted the per-capita case average to one for every 252 residents after averaging one for every 1,753 residents.

“We’ve seen surges. But to say it’s disproportionate to other zip codes, I can’t speak to that,” Norridgewock Town Manager Richard LaBelle said. “Candidly, it’s not much of a surprise, but everyone thought we were going to get a bump.”

Small towns such as New Portland, population 718, and Vienna, 570 residents, stayed between 1-5 cumulative cases for the entire span of the analysis. All other towns in Somerset and Kennebec counties experienced consistent, incremental increases for the entirety of the 10-week data set.

“We have been preparing for increases in COVID cases for months,” Rick Barry, vice president of nursing and patient care services at Northern Light Inland Hospital, said in a prepared comment. “We can’t definitively point to one or two things as the reasons for the increase. We assume some of it stems from holiday gatherings, possibly where masks were not worn, but we just don’t know for sure.”

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