Claire McDonough, pharmacy operations manager at Central Maine Healthcare, opens a box of Moderna COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines in Lewiston, Maine on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, after receiving 600 doses at the Central Maine Medical Center. Credit: Ann Kim / Central Maine Medical Center via AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Coronavirus cases in Maine have remained constant over the last few weeks after a sustained decline, with the infection rate still higher than last spring as Maine continues its vaccine rollout and plans for further reopening.

Maine’s overall case rate remains lower than most U.S. states, as it has been throughout the pandemic. But the stagnation here in recent weeks comes as the infection rate has continued to decline nationally. More than a dozen states posted lower per capita case rates than Maine did over the past week, according to the New York Times.

Several metrics suggest the virus situation in Maine is not improving. The positivity rate has crept upward over the past two weeks, with the seven-day positivity rate for viral tests sitting at 1.44 percent as of Tuesday compared to 1.13 percent two weeks ago.

Cases have remained stubbornly high in recent weeks after dropping for more than a month, suggesting the virus is more prevalent in Maine now than it ever was in the spring or summer. The seven-day average of new cases was 162 as of Tuesday, down nearly three-quarters from a mid-January peak of 625, but still higher than any day in the pandemic prior to Nov. 8.

Hospitalizations, another top indicator of virus prevalence, were also mostly flat over the past few weeks, according to state data. As of Tuesday, 75 patients were hospitalized with the virus in Maine, down significantly from a peak of 207 in mid-January but up from 69 a week ago. Current figures likewise remain higher than anything Maine saw prior to last November.

Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, characterized the virus situation as a “relatively stable plateau,” saying Tuesday that household transmission continued to be the most significant driver of spread. He said health officials hope that vaccinations drive down transmission in the coming months.

The decline of cases in Maine in late January and much of February coincided with the extension of the COVID-19 vaccine to older Mainers after initial vaccinations targeted health care workers and residents of congregate living settings. State health officials said at the time the drop was likely related to changes in behavior following a post-holiday surge, but credited vaccinations with reduced outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Maine’s vaccination push has accelerated over the last few weeks as its supply from the federal government has increased, with nearly 75,000 doses administered over the past week compared to 54,000 the week before that.

Just over 20 percent of Maine adults have received at least one vaccine dose while 74 percent of those aged 70 and older have received a dose, according to the Maine CDC. Mainers aged 60 and older are currently eligible for vaccines, along with teachers and childcare workers, as health officials have cited the link between age and higher risk of death due to coronavirus.

Virus deaths dropped significantly in the month of February, with only 70 deaths recorded, according to state data, compared to 223 in January. That total, however, is still higher than the 52 total deaths recorded in Maine between June and October 2020.