Hospitalizations decline but remain at or above 400 for the 7th consecutive day

·3 min read

Jan. 18—The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine declined slightly on Tuesday, but remained at or above 400 for the 7th consecutive day.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported exactly 400 hospitalizations on Tuesday. Of those, 105 are in critical care and 50 are on ventilators. In all, 3,700 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic.

The surge in new transmission, driven by the omicron variant, has led to an increase in hospitalizations here and across the country, but there are some signs that the variant is causing less severe symptoms for some. Although the number of COVID-19 patients overall has increased steadily in Maine for several weeks, the number of people requiring critical care or ventilators has actually leveled off or even decreased.

Hospitalizations have risen across the country, too, to their highest level yet — 133,187 patients on average over the last week, according to the U.S. CDC.

Maine health officials also reported 538 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, although that appears to be a partial count due to the result of a pause in the processing of positive tests over the holiday weekend and a large backlog of older cases that the state is still working to confirm. Most of the new cases in Tuesday's update were submitted to the state for review on Jan. 4 — two weeks ago — and virtually none of the positive tests over the past 10 days have yet been processed by the state, according to the Maine CDC's website.

No additional deaths were reported, leaving the pandemic total at 1,658. Maine's rate of death during the pandemic is the third-lowest per capita; only Hawaii and Vermont are lower.

Notwithstanding Tuesday's relatively low total of new cases in Maine, the highly transmissible omicron variant has caused cases to soar both here and across the country. The seven-day average is 798,335, which is roughly twice as many cases per day as two weeks ago, according to the U.S. CDC.

Even though Maine's rate of transmission is as high as it's ever been, the state ranks lowest among all states with 558 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. The national rate is 1,683 cases per 100,000 people.

However, that may also be caused by the state's inability to keep up with positive tests. State officials have said the daily case updates are no longer a reliable way to track the pandemic, both because of the backlog and because people are taking home tests that are not part of the count.

The spread of the omicron variant has put an even greater strain on hospitals, although many will get assistance this week from members of the Maine National Guard. The two hospitals that will receive the most guard members are Maine Medical Center in Portland, with 30, and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, with 19.

There are some signs that the omicron wave has peaked in some areas, although it could still be several weeks before Maine sees any signs of that. Some schools have switched to remote learning temporarily because too many staff members have been out sick.

Vaccinations, meanwhile, have remained steady. Overall, Maine has administered 970,739 final doses, which means 72.2 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, and 530,942 boosters, which accounts for 39.5 percent of the population.

As has been the case for many months, some parts of the state have much lower rates of vaccination. Somerset County is the only county that has yet to reach 60 percent, and Franklin and Piscataquis are only slightly above 60 percent.

This story will be updated