Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Maine rose rapidly this week, with the biggest hospitals in central and eastern Maine approaching or exceeding their all-time peaks in the spring.

The total number of COVID-19 inpatients statewide stood at 37 Friday, down from 38 a day earlier but the highest level since June 3; the peak was 60 on May 26. For those acutely affected by the disease, hospitalizations typically trail exposure to the virus by one to three weeks, suggesting that the trend will get worse given the ongoing surge in new cases.

Whereas throughout the pandemic confirmed COVID-19 admissions have been concentrated at major hospitals in Maine’s three southernmost counties – and especially Maine Medical Center – the new surge over the past two weeks has been primarily distributed at hospitals in other parts of the state, with many small hospitals having inpatients at the same time.

MaineGeneral in Augusta hit its record for confirmed COVID-19 inpatients in the week ending Thursday. It is currently the hospital bearing the largest burden in the state, with an average of 6.7 inpatients per day. On Thursday, the hospital had nine such patients.

Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor had the busiest week since its peak in early May with 4.7 COVID-19 inpatients in each daily census, up from 1.7 the week before.

Maine Medical Center in Portland saw a sharp increase to an average of 3.6 COVID-19 inpatients per day, up from 0.9 a day the week before but well below the peak levels in the low-to-mid 30s per day during the disease’s early April and late May hospital surges.

Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital, which hadn’t had a COVID-19 inpatient since Oct. 2, averaged 1.9 a day for the period, its busiest since mid-May.

“The hospitalizations we are seeing are what we would expect when the numbers of people being diagnosed has really surged a lot,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital network and Maine Med’s parent entity. “It’s not unexpected, but it’s also deeply concerning.”

On Friday, Maine again set a daily record for new COVID-19 cases at 184.

In a given week during the crisis, one or two of Maine’s smaller hospitals might have reported having a pandemic inpatient or two for a few days but would go weeks or even months without one. But for the past two weeks, many of these smaller hospitals had inpatients at the same time. In the week ending Thursday, these included Franklin Memorial in Farmington, Waldo General in Belfast, Bridgton Hospital, Sebastacook Valley in Pittsfield, Rumford Hospital, PenBay Medical Center in Rockport, Inland Hospital in Waterville and York Hospital.

The largest hospital in York County – the center of the pandemic in Maine at the end of the summer – was quieter. Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center had 0.9 inpatients a day, unchanged from last week, while smaller York Hospital had 0.7 and none reported after Nov. 2.

Mercy Hospital in Portland had 0.6 COVID-19 inpatients per day but none after Oct. 31, while St. Mary’s in Lewiston had 0.4 after having had no patients the period before.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston had 1.7 inpatients a day, up from 0.9 the week before.

Mills, a former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the younger sister of Gov. Janet Mills, said the state’s hospitals were prepared for the surge, but she emphasized that caring for COVID-19 inpatients takes substantial resources: special rooms with negative air pressure, large amounts of personal protective equipment, and specialized care teams including respiratory therapists.

“At the peak (at MaineMed) it was like having 38 people who are post cardiac surgery; it’s a very intensive type of care,” Mills said. “You have to remember that we have a staffing shortage in normal times across the country and especially in Maine and, with COVID, our care team members can get exposed in the community and get sick just like anyone else.”

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator in that they typically occur one to three weeks after a person is exposed to the disease, but unlike other metrics, it is not dependent on who and how many people were tested. They can end three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald’s survey is for the seven days ending Nov. 5. It compiles data received directly from the hospitals and hospital networks. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients who were suspected of having the virus but never tested. It includes most of the state’s hospitals and accounts for the vast majority of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.


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