A second person with the highly contagious B117 variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom has been reported in York County.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday, Feb. 16, the person had recently traveled domestically and added that there are no linkages or connections between this individual and the Franklin County case of the variant reported last week.

The York County person is doing well, Shah said, and is continuing to isolate. The Maine CDC is actively seeking out new variants and Shah expects to find "more and more" and potentially other types of variants in the future.

Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services said Maine schools will be receiving Abbott BinexNOW rapid tests for use in detecting students and staff with the COVID-19 virus. The tests involves a swab and can give results within 15 minutes she said.

This test will be for students and staff members who develop symptoms while at school or in cases where an individual is a close contact.

Commissioner Pender Makin of the Department of Education said when schools opened last year, they had no idea if a vaccine would be available and developed a layered strategy with protocols.

"We have realized this is working, seeing Maine is doing better than many other states," she said. "This new addition of testing will be another layer, adding to what we have in place already," Makin said.

The health of schools, she said, is fully dependent on the health of the surrounding community, and she reinforced the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing.

Speaking about vaccinations, Shah said that as of today 249,913 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the state. Out of that total, 176,892 people have received their first dose and 73,021 have received both.

He said the Walmart and Sam's Club partnership is going well in helping to reach far-flung geographic locations across the state. Demand has been high, he said, and added that other commercial pharmacy partners could be added in the future.

Two more people were reported to have died because of COVID-19. They were man and a woman, from Kennebec and York County, respectively; one in their 70s and the other in their 80s. In all 651 people have died because of the disease in Maine.

Since yesterday, Shah said, there have been an additional 91 cases, a decrease of 84 since Thursday's briefing. Currently there are 92 people hospitalized, down from 100 on Feb. 11. Of this total, 24 are in intensive care units and 11 are on ventilators.

The seven-day positivity rate for PCR test is 1.57%, which Shah said was the lowest level since early November, and the testing volume has increased to 599 people for every 100,000.

According to the Maine CDC website, Waldo County has the lowest case rate of any county in the state, with 142.8 cases per 10,000 people.

Shah said there are reasons to be optimistic: cases are down, hospitalizations are down, deaths are down and more vaccine doses are going into arms.

"These are encouraging …  and reasons for optimism," he said. There are also reasons to be cautious, he said, referring to the discovery of the contagious variant in Maine.

"It is a concern that these variants will get a foothold," he said, and encouraged people to continue wearing their masks, and keeping their distance from others.

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