Mar. 2—State health officials reported 182 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with no additional deaths, on a day when two mass vaccination clinic opened in southern Maine.
The new sites were launched at the Portland Expo, operated by Northern Light Health, and at the former Marshalls store in Sanford, run by MaineHealth. Residents between the ages of 60 and 69 can begin getting shots starting on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the head of the Maine Education Association teachers union is now urging Gov. Janet Mills to re-consider the decision to have strictly an age-based vaccination program moving forward.
Grace Leavitt, president of the MEA, had last week expressed support for the plan, but said in a letter to Mills on Monday that "many of our educators are extremely distraught and angry that all educators aren't prioritized to receive vaccinations now."
Leavitt also encouraged Mills to prioritize school staff with high-risk medical conditions and staff who work with special education students. The Mills plan will have dedicated clinics for school staff but will still be age-based, so in March only teachers 60 and over will receive the vaccine.
Regardless of prioritization issues, a record number of doses are arriving in Maine this week. The two new mass sites open as Maine's immunization program ramps up, with more than 55,000 doses expected to be shipped to the state this week, including 15,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Overall, Maine has given 355,810 doses, including 231,353 first doses, representing 17.21 percent of the population.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Maine health Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew will brief the media at 1 p.m. today. Shah has said that if Maine can regularly receive about 50,000 doses per week, it will no longer be constrained by supplies to vaccinate the population.
Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 44,944 positive cases of COVID-19, and 703 deaths.
In addition to the mass vaccination sites, which also includes Scarborough Downs and the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, people 60 and older can schedule a vaccine appointment at one of more than 70 Walmart, Sam's Club or Walgreens locations.
Last week, Mills unveiled a new age-based system for the vaccination program, with people 60 and older becoming eligible March 3, 50 and older April 1, 40 and older May 1, 30 and older June 1 and 16-29 starting in July. The timeline may accelerate if vaccine supplies become more plentiful.
The previous plan prioritized those with high-risk health conditions, but was scrapped in favor of an age-based plan. Mills and Shah defended the move, arguing age is the biggest risk factor for COVID-19. Other groups, such as some teachers and hospitality workers, have also criticized the plan.
Hilary Koch, of Waterville, whose family has high-risk health conditions, said they were told by the state all along that high-risk people would receive priority, only to have the rug pulled out from under them last week.
"For every single person who is high risk, I'm sorry but this policy doesn't serve them — it really doesn't and it puts them at the back of the line," Koch said. "I feel misled and I feel that people with medical disabilities have been misled."
Current hospitalizations in Maine stood at 69 on Tuesday, an increased of seven over the previous day, with 25 in critical care.
This story will be updated