Maine’s largest hospital hit a new high of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients Thursday, capping the busiest week that it and several other major medical centers in the state have had since the pandemic began in Maine nine months ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients admitted at Maine Medical Center in Portland reached 40 Thursday and averaged 36.7 per day for the week ending that day, up from 25.3 the week before. The previous single-day peak was 35, on both April 7 and May 25.

Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford also experienced its heaviest week since the pandemic began, treating an average of 22.7 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients each day for the week ending Thursday, up from 20 the week before and close to zero for much of July and August.

Senior clinicians at the two hospitals’ parent entity, MaineHealth, have been expressing concern for the past couple of weeks about diminishing capacity, particularly staffing, as the fall surge worsens here and across the United States.

MaineHealth spokesman John Porter said Friday evening that Maine Med currently has 16 COVID-19 patients in its ICU, though he did not know how many ICU beds were occupied and available at the hospital overall. According to newly released figures from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, for the week ending Dec. 7 Maine Med had a nightly average of 92.4 of its 115 ICU beds occupied, 16.1 of them by COVID-19 patients.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations also hit a record of 173 on Wednesday – though only 42 of these patients were in intensive care units – and stood at 172 Thursday before setting a new record of 182 on Friday. During the spring surge, Maine’s worst day saw only 60 COVID-19 inpatients. The numbers likely only begin to account for any potential increases driven by Thanksgiving gatherings two weeks ago, as there is most often a delay of two to three weeks between exposure and hospitalization for those acutely affected by the disease.

Two other major hospitals also experienced their heaviest COVID-19 week yet. Augusta’s MaineGeneral broke its record for the fifth week running with an average of 17.3 patients treated each day for the week ending Thursday, up slightly from 17.1 the previous week. Of 16 intensive care beds, 13 were occupied Thursday, three of them by COVID-19 patients, the hospital reported.

Dr. Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at MaineGeneral, said the hospital does not yet need to activate the surge plan it developed in March and is able to continue providing all services, though it evaluates the situation constantly. “We need everyone to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously,” Diaz said via email, urging the public to wash hands, socially distance, wear face coverings and stay at home if sick.

“Our staff are resilient, and we are proud of the level of care and service they give every day to our patients, but they are under stress,” Diaz added. “We really need all in our community to do their best to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland had 14 COVID-19 inpatients on Friday and the daily average for the week ending Thursday was a record-setting 11.1, up sharply from 5.2 the week before. Six of its seven ICU beds were occupied Friday afternoon, five of them by COVID-19 patients, but the hospital’s top clinician said it remained in a good position, capacity-wise.

“Both Maine Medical and Mercy have been busy these last few weeks, and the surge in COVID patients has added to that,” Dr. John Southall, Mercy’s senior physician executive, said in an interview. “But remember that even with 40 at MMC and another 14 here at Mercy, that’s still 54 patients out of a total capacity in Portland of over 700 beds.”

Cases trended down at Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center, which had been hard hit in the first part of the fall surge. EMMC had an average of 18.3 COVID-19 inpatients treated each day for the period ending Thursday, down from 24.3 the week before.

Both of Lewiston’s hospitals plateaued this week after experiencing their heaviest COVID-19 burdens the week before. Central Maine Medical Center had an average of 11.9 COVID-19 inpatients for the week, down slightly from 12.1 the week before and 9.3 the week before that. At St. Mary’s there were 5.9 per day, down from 6.7 last week and 4.4 the week before that.

The pandemic continues to surge across the country, with nearly all the metrics striking their worst levels since the crisis began in the United States nearly nine months ago. On Thursday alone, states reported more than 223,000 positive tests and 2,923 deaths, nearly as many as in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Hospitalizations hit a record nationally as well, with 107,258 Thursday, according to the New York Times tracker. Despite the deteriorating situation in Maine, the state still has the third lowest prevalence of the disease in the country after Hawaii and Vermont.

Hospitals in Maine say they hope to meet demand by converting “swing beds” from ordinary medical-surgical duty to intensive care, though they are likely to come up against staffing shortages well before they run out of beds. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been dusting off contingency plans for field hospitals to be created at arenas in Portland and Bangor as hospitals continue to see unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick had an average of 4.3 COVID-19 inpatients each day, unchanged from the week before and matching its busiest week in the spring, while York Hospital continued to see a gradual decrease in pressure, with an average of 2.1 COVID-19 inpatients for the week, down from 2.7 last week and 5.3 the week before, which was the heaviest it had experienced.

York Hospital also reported Friday that a staff outbreak detected last week there had resulted in 17 staff and six patients testing positive for COVID-19. It temporarily closed its Berwick and Kittery offices to ensure it had enough staff. Other services at the 48-bed hospital continue to operate.

An unprecedented number of other smaller hospitals had COVID-19 inpatients this week. In the week ending Thursday, these included Franklin Memorial in Farmington; Sebasticook Valley in Pittsfield; PenBay Medical Center in Rockport; Blue Hill, Rumford and Bridgton hospitals; Stephens Memorial in Norway; Waldo County General in Belfast; Inland Hospital in Waterville; A.R. Gould in Presque Isle; Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth; and Mayo Regional in Dover-Foxcroft.

“We want to urge the public to continue to mask, continue to socially distance, continue to not have large group settings,” Mercy’s Southall said.

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 in three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald compiles data directly from the hospitals and hospital networks. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients suspected of having the virus but who were never tested. It includes most of the state’s hospitals and accounts for the nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.

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