Joe Bruno of Community Pharmacies administers the Moderna vaccine Friday to Erica Lowe, team leader at Crossroads Maine’s congregate living rehabilitation facility for women in Windham. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine is accelerating the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, reporting on Friday that it had administered a record 8,827 shots the previous day.

That eclipses the previous high reported on Thursday of 7,584 first and second doses given Wednesday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said. Maine had typically administered about 2,000 to 5,000 doses per day over the past few weeks.

DHHS spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said expanding vaccinations to include those 70 and older, public safety workers and more clinics at long-term care centers has increased the pace of immunizations even while supply is limited.

“Maine’s daily number of doses administered has consistently risen since vaccines first became available in mid-December and the increase in the coming weeks’ vaccine doses will allow Maine to expand the pace and breadth of vaccinations,” Farwell said in a statement.

The state reported 359 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and three additional deaths.

Also, the Maine Department of Education announced updates to the state’s color-coded school reopening advisories, including moving Cumberland County from a “yellow” to a “green” designation.

And Gov. Janet Mills announced late Friday the she and her counterparts across the Northeast have agreed to extend the suspension of interstate youth hockey through at least March 31. The current suspension – put in place after several outbreaks were linked to hockey games – was set to expire on Sunday.

The prohibition does not apply to collegiate, professional, or U.S. national team hockey activities, although those all have existing safety protocols and restrictions.

Overall, Maine has now given 137,531 COVID-19 vaccine shots, including 102,773 first doses and 34,758 second doses. That means 7.7 percent of the population has received a first dose and 2.6 percent a second dose.

Maine launched an expanded COVID-19  vaccination dashboard on Thursday, giving a breakdown of who has received vaccines by age, race, gender and county of residence.

Supplies remain limited nationwide and the Biden administration announced that beginning next week states would receive 16 percent more doses for the next three weeks. For Maine, that means the state will receive 20,375 doses next week, an increase of 2,800 doses from the previous week.

However, vaccine supplies still need to increase greatly if Maine is to make significant strides in increasing its inoculation rates, with 50,000 doses needed weekly for the mass clinics that are being established by health care networks.

Through Thursday, Maine had the eighth-highest percentage of doses given per 100 people in the United States, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker, with 9.57 doses given per 100 people. Alaska was tops in the nation, at 15.09, while the national average was 8.3 doses per 100 people.

The rollout of the vaccine program continues to ramp up, as the Biden administration has announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help establish mass vaccination sites.

The green designation given to Cumberland County schools by the DOE on Friday means the risk of COVID-19 spread is relatively low and schools may consider in-person instruction. A yellow designation means there is an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and hybrid instruction is recommended.

For most of the school year the yellow designation also meant sports teams could not practice or participate in interscholastic competition, but the Maine Principals’ Association announced last week that policy would change and the color designations would only apply to in-person learning and not school-based activities. Most school districts around Maine are offering hybrid instruction, regardless of color designation, due to their abilities to comply with safety requirements.

Three Maine counties, Androscoggin, Oxford and York, remain yellow due to 14-day new case rates and positivity rates that are above the state average. A fourth county, Franklin, was added to the list of yellow counties Friday.

As of Thursday, more than 700 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Maine schools over the last 30 days and there were dozens of open outbreak investigations. Still, the Maine Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that the transmission of the virus in schools remains low in comparison to the general population.

Over the last 30 days, the rate of new cases is 34 per 10,000 staff and students, or roughly 29 percent of the 116 cases per 10,000 people statewide, the Department of Education said.

Among the active outbreaks the state is investigating is one at the Barron Center, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Portland. As of Thursday, there have been 142 COVID-19 cases among residents – 16 of whom have died – and 30 involving staff. The current outbreak was opened on Nov. 21.

A much smaller outbreak investigation at the Barron Center occurred late last spring. It involved cases among three staff and one resident but no deaths.

Friday’s daily case count was another day of relatively lower cases compared to early and mid-January, when counts often ran above 600 per day. The 284 new cases reported Thursday was the lowest weekday figure in a month. Case counts are typically higher during the week and lower on weekends because people are more likely to get tested on weekdays.

The seven-day positivity rate for molecular tests stood at 3.64 percent on Thursday, down from 5.89 percent on Dec. 31. When fewer tests are returned with positive results, that indicates there’s less undetected COVID-19, which gives public health workers a better chance to control the virus by quarantining a higher percentage of those who may be contagious.

When Maine had case counts in the summer and early fall of about 30 cases per day, the positivity rate was roughly 0.5 percent.

On Thursday, the positive case trends prompted the governor to lift a pandemic requirement that restaurants close for indoor dining by 9 p.m.

“We are beginning to round the corner on the post-holiday surge of COVID-19,” Mills said. “With these improved public health metrics, and with the holidays behind us, it is appropriate to remove the early closing time requirement.”

Overall, Maine has recorded 38,813 cases of COVID-19, and 570 deaths, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this story.

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