A masked pedestrian walks down Congress Street on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine health officials reported 201 new cases of COVID-19 and one death Monday as the state’s vaccination campaign expands to include additional community-based health care centers around the state.

After experiencing a months-long surge tied to the holidays and the winter shift to indoor activities, Maine is seeing the number of new cases reported daily trend downward. The rolling average of new cases for the previous week was 269 on Monday, which is the lowest seven-day average since Dec. 6. At the beginning of the month, the seven-day stood at 357 new cases daily after peaking at 626 on Jan. 15, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease caused by the coronavirus continues to claim lives in Maine and nationally – including a man in his 70s from Knox County – and there are concerns about new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 appearing in states.

The pace of vaccinations in Maine has also quickened and is expected to increase this week due, in part, to a modest increase in vaccine shipments from the federal government and the establishment of several mass-vaccination sites in the state.

The Maine CDC is shipping 1,100 vaccine doses to nine additional federally qualified health centers this week that provide medical care to underserved communities, many in rural parts of the state. Those centers are: Penobscot Community Health Care, Bucksport Regional Health Center, Harrington Family Health Center, Hometown Health Center in Newport, Islands Community Medical Services on Vinalhaven, DFD Russell Medical Centers in central and western Maine, and St. Croix Family Health Center in Princeton.

Each location is slated to receive 100 doses of vaccines from Moderna with the exception of Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor, which received 300 doses. The shipments are part of the Maine CDC’s effort to inoculate individuals age 70 or older during the first stage of Phase 1B vaccinations.

Darcy Shargo, chief executive officer of the Maine Primary Care Association, said those doses will be used immediately – she noted that Maine’s 20 community health centers serve an estimated 25,000 patients age 70 or older. Most clinics have the capacity to identify their highest-risk patients for vaccine priority, although scheduling clinics has been challenging because of uncertainty over vaccine supplies.

“We are delighted for the increase in allocation and continue to advocate for more dosages, as we feel confident that (community health centers) are in a unique position to reach our state’s most vulnerable,” Shargo wrote in an email. “At this point, our CHCs are doing what they can with the dosages given and are reaching, we believe, patients who otherwise would really struggle with accessing vaccines.”

The Maine CDC expects to receive enough first doses this week to vaccinate an additional 21,475 people, which is an increase of 1,100 doses but still less than half the estimated volume needed to inoculate most of the state’s population by summer. Second doses are shipped to states when they are due to be administered, between three and four weeks after the first dose, depending on the manufacturer.

As of Monday morning, heath care providers had administered 142,325 first doses of vaccine to people in Maine along with 52,920 second doses, for a total of 195,245 shots administered. More than 10.5 percent of the Maine’s population had received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as of Sunday, with 38 percent of those shots given to individuals age 70 or older.

To date, the Maine CDC has reported 41,419 total confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 since the disease was detected in Maine 11 months ago along with 636 deaths. Individuals age 70 and older – the primary focus of the state’s current vaccination phase – make up just 12 percent of the people who have contracted COVID-19 in Maine but nearly 86 percent of deaths.

Maine currently ranks among the top 10 states in terms of the percent of the population that has been vaccinated so far, according to tracking by Bloomberg. Roughly 10.4 percent of Maine’s population had received at least one dose, which was the sixth-highest nationally after Alaska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Connecticut and North Dakota. Maine was seventh on Bloomberg’s list among states with the highest percentages of people who have received both doses at 3.8 percent

At the current rate, state officials have said they would expect to vaccinate two-thirds of those age 70 or older by the beginning of March, allowing eligibility to expand to individuals aged 65 to 69.

But the rate of vaccinations in Maine and across the country has been slower than desired because of limited supplies from the federal government. And many older Mainers are having to navigate a confusing maze of different vaccine registration and appointment systems because of a lack of a centralized, statewide system.

Vaccinations at nursing homes, assisted-living centers and independent-living facilities in Maine is also taking longer than anticipated, in part because of complications in the federal partnership with pharmacy retail giants CVS and Walgreens. Many independent-living facilities are scrambling to secure vaccines for their residents after the federal government abruptly dropped such facilities from the federal program because of limited supplies of doses.

There are now two mass-vaccination sites open by appointment only in Maine with more in the works, although limited supplies of doses flowing into the state means the two existing sites are still operating well below their potential capacity. MaineHealth opened a high-volume clinic at the former Scarborough Downs harness racing track last week while Northern Light Health opened a clinic at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

The number of Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 is also declining in Maine, although the current hospitalization rates are multiple times higher than those during the summer months and early fall.

As of Monday, there were 124 individuals hospitalized statewide with the disease, 32 of whom were in critical care units with 13 connected to ventilators. One week earlier, there were 164 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, 51 in critical care units and 28 requiring ventilators to assist with breathing.

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