Nick Gumlaw, of Portland, Maine, right, releases a stunt kite controlled by Amanda Hutter, of Scarborough, Maine, as they take advantage of gusty winds, Tuesday, May, 17, 2022, in South Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine’s largest cities lost population in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the state saw rapid growth by its standards.

The diverging trend illustrates the complexity of Maine’s pandemic population boom. The state added nearly 10,000 residents on net between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But data released this spring show the two biggest cities of Portland and Lewiston, along with much of Aroostook County, still lost population during that period.

The Census estimates track Maine’s population growth between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. The data show a majority of Maine municipalities saw populations increase over that period, consistent with the state’s overall growth early in the pandemic. It was driven primarily by people from other states moving to Maine because deaths continue to exceed births here.

The fastest-growing towns during that timespan were southern Maine suburbs led by South Portland, Scarborough, Windham and Saco, each of which added more than 200 residents on net, the data show. That area has been the greatest source of Maine’s population growth over the past decade.

By contrast, the city of Portland saw its population drop by more than 100 residents between 2020 and 2021, the data show. Lewiston also saw a similar decrease. Although the declines are small, accounting for only a few tenths of a percentage point in each city, they are notable because they buck the trend of growing population seen in most of southern Maine.

Outside of the state’s two largest cities, only a handful of other places saw their populations decline, including the Aroostook County municipalities of Caribou, Houlton and Presque Isle and the town of Lisbon in Androscoggin County.