Pedestrians walk down Main Street in Bangor on Friday, May 14, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined across Penobscot County in recent weeks after a surge of the delta variant infected numerous residents and pushed local hospitals to their limit, data show.

From daily case totals to test positivity rates to hospitalizations, virtually all indicators are that the virus is declining in the county, which had been a hotbed for the virus during the delta variant surge Maine has seen in recent months. It’s a drop in line with that seen across the state recently.

In a county that had never seen so many COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the drop is a positive sign and a potential indicator that there may be greater normalcy in the coming months as residents prepare to celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yet the potential for cases will remain as long as the county’s vaccination rates remain below the rest of Maine’s and some residents refuse to follow coronavirus protocols, experts have said.

Some of the most optimistic news has come from the marked decline in hospitalizations seen at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which serves residents across the county and was pushed to the brink in the delta variant surge.

On Thursday, 22 people were hospitalized there with the coronavirus, a 63 percent decrease since the number peaked at 59 on Sept. 18, according to data from Northern Light Health.

Hospitalizations have similarly declined by more than a quarter across the state, declining from from 211 on Oct. 1 to 150 on Monday. Beds had filled up across the state over the last month, primarily with people who were not vaccinated.

Penobscot County has averaged about 83 cases a day over the past week, more than a 20 percent decline from the daily average of 105 in the previous three-week period, from Monday, Sept. 13 to Sunday, Oct. 3. About 6.6 percent of virus tests came back positive in the two weeks leading up to Thursday, compared with 8.5 percent in the previous two-week period.

Five COVID-19 deaths among Penobscot County residents were reported in the past week, from Oct. 3 to Oct. 10, an average of 0.6 a day. That is almost exactly half of the rate from the previous three-week period, Sept. 13 to Oct. 2, when 24 people with the virus died across the county.

While there are several optimistic indicators, the delta variant remains a significant problem for the county. Outbreaks are continuing to occur locally, including in schools: Brewer Community School saw more cases than any other school in Maine over the previous 30 days, according to data published on Thursday, and a number of other Bangor-area schools have recorded coronavirus outbreaks with case numbers in the double digits.

Vaccine hesitancy also continues to be prominent in the county, especially in its more rural sections, which tend to have lower rates. Younger people also tend to be less vaccinated: 58 percent of those ages 12-49 in the county are fully vaccinated, compared with 80 percent of those 50 and older.

About 68 percent of eligible Penobscot County residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to the Maine CDC, meaning there are about 42,500 eligible people across the county who are not. That compares to Maine’s overall rate of about 75 percent of those eligible.