An employee works in the coronavirus unit at the Durgin Pines nursing home in Kittery in 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Jabbar Fazeli

New virus outbreaks at long-term care facilities, once a major driver of new COVID-19 cases in Maine, have become virtually nonexistent in recent weeks, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data show.

Maine has seen just one new virus outbreak at a nursing home since early February. By contrast, the state saw 36 new nursing home outbreaks in January alone, as Maine was in the midst of a surge of new cases that has since declined and plateaued.

The decline in new nursing home infections follows the early vaccinations of many nursing home residents and their staff members. The overall decline in new cases across the state over time also means that staff members are less likely to catch the virus in their local communities and bring it with them when they report to work.

As new cases in nursing homes have declined, young people recently have been responsible for the largest portion of new infections in the state. Mainers in their 20s make up the highest percentage of new infections, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said last week. Those under 20 also accounted for a significant number of cases.

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Because vaccines so far have been targeted mostly to older Mainers, most young adults have been unable to be vaccinated. While they’re less likely than older people to experience the severe and sometimes fatal health effects of the coronavirus, younger people are able to spread the infection to others whose health might not be as robust. Younger adults are now on track to become eligible to be inoculated on April 19.

Four long-term care facilities across Maine had active COVID-19 outbreaks across Maine as of March 17, according to the Maine CDC. Those were the Barron Center in Portland, the Rumford Community Home, the Gorham House and Mount St. Joseph in Waterville.

The outbreak at Mount St. Joseph, for which the Maine CDC opened an investigation on March 12, was the only new nursing home outbreak the state had seen since Feb. 7. Four residents and one staff member were infected with COVID-19 as of March 17.

Several lengthy outbreaks have also recently ended, according to the Maine CDC. Those include an outbreak at Orono Commons that had infected 106 and killed 12 since the end of last year. The Maine CDC closed that outbreak investigation on March 17.

The pace of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 has also slowed in recent weeks, but the 372 who had died in nursing home outbreaks as of March 17 still make up a majority of the virus deaths Maine has seen during the pandemic.