Somerset County continues to trail the rest of the state in the number of vaccinated residents as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to surge statewide.

Some schools in the county are already reporting dozens of students who have been sent home to quarantine as school districts struggle for the best options to keep buildings open while preventing the spread of the virus.

State officials on Thursday reported 620 new COVID-19 cases as well as a record number of patients requiring critical care in Maine hospitals. Of those new reported cases, at least 34 involved residents in Somerset County, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

State officials on Wednesday announced that Maine’s seven-day average of new daily cases stood at 317.1 per 100,000 people. Maine CDC data shows that Somerset County has a seven-day new case count of 160, with a population just over 50,500 residents.

Somerset remains the lowest vaccinated county in the state, with just under 58% of the eligible population fully vaccinated. Statewide, 63% of Maine’s population is vaccinated.

At Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, officials say they are seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s emergency department and a “significant increase in outpatient testing positivity rates.”

Tracy Bonney-Corson, vice president of nursing and patient services at the hospital, said there weren’t any patients at their facility Thursday being treated in the ICU or on ventilators.

“Typically, we hold only short-term patients on ventilators and we work in collaboration with Eastern Maine Medical Center to appropriately house patients in the best location to meet their individual care needs,” Bonney-Corson said.

Patients who are hospitalized, she said, “have been predominantly unvaccinated.”

In nearby Skowhegan, officials at Redington-Fairview General Hospital said that since the beginning of the pandemic, around 70 people have been admitted with COVID-19.

“Some are here for two to four days, while others require a 10-day treatment regimen,” said Sherry Rogers, chief nursing officer at the hospital. “At this time we have no inpatients admitted with COVID-19.”

Skowhegan’s hospital has the capacity to admit between five to seven patients with COVID-19 in specialized isolations rooms. If a patient becomes critically ill, they are transferred to other hospitals where “specialized multidisciplinary medical care is provided,” according to Rogers.

Although the hospital is not seeing an increase in hospitalizations, the emergency department is seeing more patients with COVID-like symptoms, Rogers said.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Some school districts have already seen positive cases that have resulted in students being sent home to quarantine.

Maine School Administrative District 49, which serves Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, has reported a few positive cases of COVID-19 since opening last week, resulting in around 60 people being sent home to quarantine after being identified as close contacts. MSAD 49 requires masking and has opted to participate in the state’s pooled testing program.

Superintendent Roberta Hersom released letters this week alerting parents of the cases, which have been identified at Benton Elementary, Lawrence Junior High School and Lawrence High School. The district has reported six cases so far.

At Regional School Unit 74, which serves Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon, Superintendent Mike Tracy reported an additional case of COVID-19 since Tuesday, when four members of the school community tested positive over the weekend. Last week Tracy reported seven cases associated with Carrabec High School.

RSU 74 has decided to move forward with an optional mask policy for students and staff. A special school board meeting will be held Wednesday to discuss the district’s COVID-19 response plan.

VACCINE EFFORTS

The Pittsfield and Skowhegan hospitals have worked to get shots in the arms of Somerset County residents in recent months. Last weekend, 19 people were vaccinated at a clinic at the Skowhegan Craft Brew Festival. Weeks earlier, Redington-Fairview staff vaccinated two dozen people who attended the 10-day Skowhegan State Fair.

“We did 19 doses which was great, honestly, it was much more than I expected,” said Lisa Caswell, director of pharmacy at Redington-Fairview. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

Of those 19, she said about 75% of them were residents of Somerset County. Most opted for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while three opted for Moderna.

Walk-in clinics are offered from 3:30 to 5 p.m. every Thursday at Redington-Fairview. Those who are at least 18 years old can show up and choose between the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the J&J vaccine.

Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital offers walk-in clinics at three locations through the week, including Wednesdays at Northern Light Primary Care in Newport, Thursdays at Northern Light Primary Care in Pittsfield, and Fridays at Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield. Each clinic is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offers the J&J vaccine.

The hospital has also made other efforts during the pandemic, including various pop-up clinics, most recently at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield.

A clinic is scheduled for Sept. 17 at Hight Ford Dealerships in Skowhegan from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., organized through Redington-Fairview General Hospital.

On Sept. 25, a flu and COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru clinic is scheduled at The Millennium in Palmyra from 9 to 11 a.m., organized through Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital.

Morning Sentinel reporter Kaitlyn Budion contributed to this report.

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