More than 1,300 Maine kids have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, the highest total for any month of the pandemic. Credit: Oded Balilty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 1,300 Maine kids younger than 12 have tested positive for COVID-19 in Maine in September, the highest total for any month of the pandemic as they remain ineligible for the vaccine.

The record case levels come amid the start of the school year with most Maine students returning to in-person learning at a time when the virus continues to hit unvaccinated people especially hard. It highlights the particular danger the virus poses to kids who have fewer tools available to protect themselves.

Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 20, the most recent data available from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,374 Mainers younger than 12 tested positive for the virus — about one out of every 120 kids in that age group. With 10 days left in the month, the figure already surpassed the previous record of 1,197 kids younger than 12 who tested positive in April 2021.

The infections among kids fit with a pattern of higher case rates among unvaccinated people. In a five-week period from August into mid-September, about 1.5 percent of not fully vaccinated people in Maine tested positive for the virus, compared to only 0.17 percent of fully vaccinated people. Maine zip codes with low vaccination rates generally saw higher case rates this summer than those with higher vaccination rates.

But while 85 percent of Maine adults, along with 64 percent of kids aged 12-17, have had at least one vaccine dose according to federal data, children younger than 12 have not yet had the option of receiving the vaccine.

Pfizer, which is currently the only vaccine approved for kids aged 12-17, submitted data on the effectiveness of its vaccine in children between the ages of 5 and 11 on Tuesday. But the data still has to undergo review and the shot may not be approved until November.

Despite higher case rates, COVID-19 hospitalization rates among children remain much lower than among adults. About 40 patients younger than 20 have been hospitalized with the virus since the start of the pandemic, including six in the past month. In total, nearly 2,500 Mainers have been hospitalized with the virus at some point.

But while a relatively small share of kids are ending up in the hospital, most are experiencing at least some symptoms from the virus. According to Maine CDC case investigation data, only 19 percent of kids younger than 18 were asymptomatic when contacted as part of an initial case investigation.