SKOWHEGAN — As tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds in the coming weeks, Somerset County continues to have the lowest percentage of residents in Maine — slightly more than 50% — who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

And even as cases increase across Maine and the nation, neither health officials nor fair organizers plan to offer extra vaccination opportunities connected to the 10-day fair.

In the meantime, walk-in, no-appointment vaccination opportunities are available at the local hospital and some stores.

Thomas Dillon, president of the Skowhegan State Fair, said there have been “no serious talks about anything” in terms of vaccine clinics in conjunction with the event, but added the majority of fair activities are held outdoors.

The fair is scheduled to run from Aug. 12 through the 21, with a crowd expected to be 50% larger than 2019’s turnout, which totaled about 100,000 people, according to reports.

Sherry Rogers, chief nursing officer at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, said although large events are concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Skowhegan State Fair is “less risky” because events are mostly outdoors.

“We would be open to offering a clinic at the fair,” Rogers said. “Please wear your mask for any indoor events to help protect yourself and others.”

The Maine Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, meanwhile, says officials with the Maine Immunization Program have been working to assist organizations, including agricultural fair boards, to arrange vaccination clinics.

The state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has also participated in discussions on how to help offer vaccination clinics at agricultural fairs, but only in cases where fair organizers ask for them.

The Bangor State Fair, which is set to open Friday, plans to offer a COVID-19 vaccination station, with the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines available from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

“The best advice for anyone planning to interact with others in public is to get vaccinated for COVID-19,” said Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine CDC. “All three authorized vaccines are extremely effective in preventing death or hospitalization with COVID-19.”

Somerset County has joined several others at times in being listed in the “substantial” transmission category, for which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends all people wear protective masks when indoors, except home, regardless of vaccination status. By Thursday, however, Somerset County was listed in the “moderate” transmission risk category. The designations change almost daily.

On Thursday, Maine reported 152 new cases of COVID-19, continuing an upward trend in the case count. Statewide, 60.9% of the population is fully vaccinated, but the percentage in Somerset County — 55% — trails the rest of the state, according to public health data.

At the town level, officials have not discussed the matter, given the accessibility of the vaccine, according to officials.

“It’s up to individuals to take the U.S. CDC and Maine CDC guidance into consideration for themselves,” said Christine Almand, Skowhegan’s town manager. “Vaccinations are available to anybody that wants them, and they have been for some time.”

As of Thursday, Maine CDC data showed 2,356 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Somerset County, with 34 people having died and 83 having been hospitalized.

At Redington-Fairview Hospital, officials said testing and positive tests have increased, and “they seem to be maintaining an upward trend” after a downward trend from mid-May through mid-July. From late June through mid-July, no positive tests were reported at the Skowhegan hospital.

“A six-week period without an admission for COVID-19 ended in late July, and since then, there have been two unvaccinated patients requiring admission,” said Betsy Putnam, infection preventionist at Redington-Fairview Hospital.

Rogers, the chief nursing officer at Redington-Fairview, said the hospital has “seen more patients in the Emergency Department with COVID-related issues,” although “we have not seen an increase in admitted patients with COVID.”

Rogers said many people coming to the hospital have already been vaccinated, “especially the older population.”

“However, we have a long way to go to build herd immunity in Somerset County,” Rogers said. “Especially with the delta variant, which is so contagious, we want to increase the percent of Somerset residents who are immunized.”

Meanwhile, officials said  the hospital’s emergency medical services department has been administering vaccinations for homebound members of the community, including residents with illnesses, recent fractures or hospitalizations resulting in limited mobility, or those confined to wheelchair.

Through this program, the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine is offered.

Every Thursday, walk-in clinics are also offered at Redington-Fairview from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. People can show up without an appointment and choose between the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the one-shot option from J&J. Patients must be at least 18 years old to utilize the clinic at the parking lot at 46 Fairview Ave.

Lisa Caswell, director of pharmacy at Redington-Fairview, said while the hospital has offered the Moderna and J&J vaccines, it is finding more people going out of their way to receive the single J&J shot.

“We are also gearing up for influenza vaccines in late September,” Caswell said, “and will consider offering COVID vaccine at the same time.”

Those who are homebound and wish to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination should contact [email protected] or leave a message at 207-858-2364.

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