A sign about masking stands at the entrance of Fork & Spoon on Main Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Penobscot County reported nearly 200 cases on Friday, doubling the highest case count it saw during last winter’s surge amid the spread of the delta variant.

A total of 198 cases were reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday: 161 confirmed cases and 37 probable. It was another dubious distinction for the county, which saw a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Thursday and has been especially hard hit by the delta variant.

Case totals and hospitalizations have now surpassed the worst that Penobscot County saw during the winter surge of 2020-21, when new daily cases peaked at 96 on Jan. 14. Experts fear case numbers and hospitalizations will only rise across the state as flu season approaches.

Spread in Penobscot County was already significant in August, but has become far more prevalent in September. Some 1,447 cases have been reported in the county of about 150,000 people already this month, already eclipsing the August total of 1,115. That’s an average of about 90 new cases a day, up from an average of about 36 in August.

While it is not clear why the virus is spreading so significantly in Penobscot County, the county contains several communities with among the lowest vaccination rates in the state, and they rely on Bangor as an economic service center. About 41,000 people in the county who are eligible for the shot have not received a single dose, about three in every 10 people across the county.

The number of confirmed cases, which denotes those with a positive result from a COVID-19 test, is among the highest ever recorded for a Maine county in a single day. The Maine CDC had never reported more than 110 positive tests in Penobscot County in a single day until today.

The new cases could also lead to new hospitalizations.

The ICU at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor has been overwhelmed in recent weeks amid a surge in patients. Staff have been stretched thin during the recent surge, with some being unavailable as they get sick from either the coronavirus or due to increased stress, critical care nurse Chris Laird said late last month.

More than 9 percent of the 11,539 COVID-19 tests conducted on Penobscot County residents in the two weeks before Thursday came back positive, the third highest rate in the state after Piscataquis and Waldo Counties, according to Maine CDC data.