A pedestrian walks on Fore Street in Portland as light snow falls on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Pharmacies at Walmart and Sam’s Club still intend to launch COVID-19 vaccinations at 24 locations in Maine on Friday, but technical problems with the retail giant’s website have left some people unable to sign up for an appointment.

Appointments opened up Tuesday night, and while some Maine people reported being able to schedule a vaccination, many reported getting error messages.

Donald Gean, 77, of York said he tried to make an appointment on the Walmart website Wednesday morning but kept getting stymied. He’s tried to schedule appointments elsewhere, but so far hasn’t had any luck.

“Everybody I know seems to spend most of their life looking for any place to get vaccinated, like a pool of piranha waiting on a bucket of chicken,” Gean said.

“The Walmart scheduling system is currently experiencing technical difficulties following a surge of appointments,” said Rebecca Thomason, a Walmart spokeswoman. “Our team is currently working to resolve the matter to have the scheduler back online as soon as possible. We do not anticipate this will have an impact on our vaccine start date of Feb. 12.”

Maine reported 253 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Wednesday, when the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention also announced that it had detected the state’s first case of the more contagious COVID-19 variant that originated in the United Kingdom.

Walmart’s technical problems are not confined to Maine, as news reports indicate that Florida residents are having similar problems signing up. The initial rollout of the Walmart vaccination program, which is a partnership with the federal government, includes 22 states, with Maine as the only New England state.

The sign-ups are for those 70 and older, and Walmart will have between 4,300 and 4,800 doses to administer in Maine for the first week of the program.

Steve White, 79, of Rockport said he tried signing up at Walmart’s website using Belfast, Rockport, Damariscotta and Augusta zip codes, but kept getting error messages. White said he’s happy more doses are coming to Maine, but so far trying to get an appointment is like playing a game of “vaccine roulette.”

Wednesday’s case count represents another day of relatively low numbers since cases peaked in mid-January. Feb. 1 was the last day there were more than 400 cases in a day, and most days since then daily counts have been in the 100s or 200s. The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 236.3 on Wednesday, compared to 295.3 a week ago and 530 a month ago.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 41,883 positive cases of COVID-19 and 641 deaths.

Meanwhile, the vaccination program continues, with 208,302 doses given, including 151,010 first doses and 57,292 second doses. Of the first doses given, 61,445 have gone to those 70 and older. Since Jan. 18, Maine has prioritized the 70-and-older age group, the most vulnerable to hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Maine is the ninth-best state in the country for how quickly it is giving vaccinations, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker, at 14.95 shots given per 100 people. Alaska is tops in the nation at 21.36 shots per 100 people, while the national average is 13.5 shots per 100 people.

Supplies are still scarce, but doses are increasing, including the 4,000-plus doses per week coming into Maine at Walmart and Sam’s Club. That’s in addition to the 21,475 doses per week Maine is receiving from the federal government for the state vaccination program.

The White House announced Tuesday that states would be getting a 7 percent increase in doses next week, which for Maine would be about 1,500 more doses. However, the Maine CDC has not yet received official notification of how many extra doses the state will receive.

Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident command leader for Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said Wednesday that the Cross Insurance Center mass vaccination site can now handle 3,000 patients per day. They are ramping up capacity in anticipation of supply increasing.

“We are working to be able to vaccinate 5,000 people a day, six days a week. That’s where we would like to be,” Jarvis said.

There are currently 112 people in Maine hospitalized with COVID-19, with 23 in intensive care.

As the vaccine rollout continues, the U.S. CDC published a study Wednesday that measured the effectiveness of double masking. Researchers concluded that wearing one mask blocks 40 percent of airborne particles, while double masking stops 80 percent of particles. If two people are together and both are wearing double masks, 96 percent of particles are blocked, according to the research.

Also, Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday issued a statement criticizing MaineHealth for vaccinating people outside of the state’s priority groups of front-line health care workers, those 70 and older, people living in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and public safety employees. MaineHealth had vaccinated health care workers who did not routinely come into contact with patients and out-of-state contractors assisting MaineHealth, the parent organization of Maine Medical Center, in its effort to discourage unionizing efforts by hospital nurses.

“MaineHealth’s decision to vaccinate outside of this strategy undermines the public’s confidence in our efforts,” Mills said in a statement. “Simply put, it was not the appropriate way to give away our precious vaccine.”

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