After five weeks of flat or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state, Portland’s largest hospitals experienced marked increases over the past week.

The data, which the Press Herald collected from the hospitals through Thursday, come amid weeks of rising confirmed case counts in the state, an indication the disease may be having a second wind in southern Maine.

Maine Medical Center, which has had nearly half of the state’s confirmed coronavirus inpatients through most of the crisis, saw its COVID-19 inpatient count jump from 15 to 24 over the seven days ending May 21, the highest level there since April 17. Portland’s other major hospital, Northern Light Mercy, saw cases rise from five to eight, its highest level yet.

The picture in York County was less clear. Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center in Biddeford went from one to three COVID-19 inpatients during the same period, but York Hospital in York failed to provide this week’s data.

At Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, the inpatient count remained stable at between two and four, similar to the previous week but higher than in late April, when there was a seven-day stretch with no patients.

Hospitals in other parts of the state had flat or declining pandemic patient loads for a sixth week running, including Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which had just one patient each day of the period, compared to a peak of seven on May 6.

MaineGeneral in Augusta, the third most affected hospital after Maine Medical Center and Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center during the pandemic, had one to two inpatients each day during the week, while Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital had two to three for the second week in a row.

Two smaller hospitals that each had a patient during the previous week – Franklin Memorial in Farmington and Waldo in Belfast – had no COVID-19 inpatients over the seven days.

In all cases, hospitalizations can end three ways: recovery, death or transfer to another facility. The data – current through Thursday – does not include outpatients or inpatients who were suspected of having the virus but never tested.

Governments worldwide introduced physical distancing measures to “flatten the curve” in an effort to slow the pandemic’s spread so that hospital intensive care units are not overwhelmed by a massive wave of patients.

After more than a monthlong statewide lockdown, Gov. Janet Mills allowed barbershops, hairdressers and car dealers to reopen statewide May 1 as part of a phased easing of restrictions. Retail outlets in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties followed on May 11 and restaurants on May 18. These businesses are scheduled to reopen in the other four counties – York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Penobscot – on June 1, but plans to also open fitness centers, gyms and nail salons have been put on hold.

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