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Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 4, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, February 4, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, February 4, 2021
As COVID-19 outbreak subsides, vaccines ramp up
Race is on to out-vaccine the virus

COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020
Click here to see the full COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020.

by Leslie Landrigan

As the recent surge of COVID-19 cases subsides, more residents of the island and peninsula are getting vaccinated as Northern Light Health opens more places to get that first—and second—shot.

Local residents over 70 aren’t deterred by the distance to the Cross Center in Bangor, where Northern Light started a mass vaccination clinic on Tuesday. The health system announced it planned to vaccinate 2,000 people during the first week in February. By the end of the first day, 769 people had gotten their shots, according to Kelley Columber, Northern Light spokesperson. “Those that were concerned about safely traveling to their appointment are being rescheduled later in the week,” Columber said in an email.

Some islanders couldn’t wait for the Cross Center clinic and went to Presque Isle to get vaccinated, according to Rene Colson Hudson, director of the Healthy Island Project. But some have signed up to go to Bangor, she said.

In Blue Hill, Northern Light’s hospital staff received their second shot of the vaccine on Tuesday despite the winter storm. “We just carried on,” Columber said. The hospital would resume its community vaccinations on Thursday, she said.

Deer Isle resident Marnie Reed Crowell and her husband Ken both got their first shots at the Blue Hill hospital. Though she called the online registration process “a nuisance,” Crowell gave the vaccination experience itself a positive review for efficiency and professionalism.

“It was wonderful,” Crowell said in a phone interview. “They were friendly, and they acted like humans.”

Local outbreak appears over

After party goers spread COVID-19 around the peninsula and island in late January, schools in Blue Hill, Brooklin and Deer Isle went to remote learning. They returned to in-class learning on February 1.

The Blue Hill Consolidated School reopened after going remote when three students tested positive. “The school has been throughly cleaned, all rooms have been fogged and sanitized, contact tracing has been thoroughly completed, and there hasn’t been a case in school for nine days,” wrote School Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt in a January 29 email. He also said the School Sports Committee would reconvene to rethink some basketball issues.

All the tests from students and staff in the Brooklin and the Deer Isle-Stonington schools came back negative, according to School Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington in a January 28 email.

“This is a tribute to the hard work of everyone in our schools for following the expectations we have set for distance, masks, cleaning etc.,” he wrote.

George Stevens Academy, on the other hand, had an outbreak that affected more than 80 students and staff. The school continued remote learning through February 5.

Some good news, but—

The number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Maine has gone down over the past week, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during a February 2 briefing. Though he wanted to say things are getting better, Shah said, he feared the latest data shows a “pause rather than a stop.”

Shah said three things could cause a resurgence of the coronavirus. One, the new variants that may be more contagious and more lethal than the original virus may come to Maine. “We are on the lookout,” Shah said.

Two, he said, people could think the worst is over and get careless about precautions, causing another surge. Three, weather events like the winter storm that day could drive people to gather indoors, which could lead to more spread.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” Shah said.

Slow rollout

Mass vaccinations are the key to ending the pandemic, Shah said. But there just isn’t enough vaccine to go around to everybody yet.

In Blue Hill, the Peninsula Ambulance Corps (PAC) is still working through a list of first responders to vaccinate, according to Alan Henschke, the corps’ manager. PAC and the Bar Harbor Fire Department are responsible for vaccinating about 800 of Hancock County’s federal, state and local first responders, according to Andy Sankey, the county’s Emergency Management Agency director.

The state still has a ways to go before reaching its goal of vaccinating the 193,000 Mainers over 70, Shah said.

He acknowledged that people are frustrated with the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations. But he pointed out that Maine ranks among the top states in the number of vaccines distributed and administered.

Maine can only vaccinate people as fast as it receives vaccine from the federal government, Shah said. The state has been getting about 20,000 doses of vaccine a week, but that will rise to about 21,000 going forward. The increase is due to the Biden Administration’s decision to increase vaccine shipments to the states, announced on February 2.