The state’s hospitals had another intense week saving lives from the pandemic, with Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor seeing a sharp resurgence of COVID-19 inpatients, joining Augusta’s MaineGeneral, Mid Coast in Brunswick and much smaller York Hospital in setting new pandemic peaks.

EMMC, the largest hospital in the eastern half of the state, saw an average of 26.6 confirmed COVID-19 patients per day in the week ending Thursday, up from 18.3 the week before and surpassing the previous record weekly average of 24.3 set the week before that. Despite the unprecedented burden, the hospital’s senior clinician said it is still able to handle the burden without canceling scheduled surgeries and other medical care.

“We need to be here for people who have heart attacks, strokes or pneumonia, and every extra patient we care for because they have COVID-19 is a patient we would not normally have in the hospital, and so they’re taking staff and nursing and bed space in addition to what we would normally have,” said Dr. James Jarvis, senior vice president at EMMC and physician incident commander for its parent entity, Northern Light Healthcare. “It straps us. We have flexibility, but not unlimited flexibility.”

After setting records last week, confirmed COVID-19 inpatient counts plateaued at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford. Maine Med had an average of 31.7 such patients per day for the week ending Thursday, down from 36.7 the period before and 25.3 the week before that. SMHC’s figure was 21.7, down from 22.7 last week. Intensive care unit occupancy, including both COVID-19 and other patients, stood at 90 percent at SMHC Friday afternoon  and 77 percent at Maine Med.

Meanwhile, two midsize MaineHealth hospitals set new burden records. Mid Coast in Brunswick reported an average of eight COVID-19 inpatients each day, up from 4.3 last week. PenBay Medical Center in Rockport – which didn’t admit a single such patient in the first six months of the pandemic – had 3.3 per day, up from 1.3 the period before.

“At this point in time COVID care is having a significant impact on our hospitals, but it’s manageable,” said Dr. Joan Boomsma, MaineHealth’s chief medical officer. “We have been concentrating COVID care at our three hubs over the last week, and we are now also keeping COVID patients at PenBay, and that’s one of the ways we have been able to manage the increased volume.”

“Obviously the vaccine is now a huge light at the end of the tunnel and gives us the opportunity to protect caregivers and keep our care teams fully intact, but we are also seeing a surge in the number of our patients testing positive for COVID since Thanksgiving,” Boomsma added. “That’s very concerning for us, because that usually predicts an increased need for hospitalization.”

MaineGeneral in Augusta also saw its biggest COVID-19 burden yet with an average of 17.4 confirmed inpatients each day, breaking the record of 17.3 set last week. Spokesperson Joy McKenna said Thursday that no confirmed COVID-19 patients were in intensive care and that two of the 16 ICU beds were still available.

Mercy Hospital in Portland also broke its record with an average of 14.9 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients treated each day, up from last week’s record level of 11.1.

York Hospital, which is in the middle of an outbreak that has infected 36 members of its staff, averaged 8.7 COVID-19 inpatients a day last week – up sharply from 2.1 the week before – and had a record-breaking 12 such patients on Thursday.

York spokesperson Jean Kolak said the hospital had opened a dedicated “respiratory bay” for COVID-19 patients near its emergency room and still had capacity in its ICU. “As with all hospitals, we will use all of our available beds, and if needed we will find creative ways to maximize other areas of the hospital to be used as ‘surge spaces’ for admitted patients,” she said via email. She said most of the cases stemmed from community spread, and that of Thursday’s 12 COVID-19 inpatients, only four of the cases were thought to be related to the outbreak within the hospital.

Another smaller hospital, Waterville’s Inland, saw a record of 3.1 COVID-19 inpatients a day, up from 1.7 last week and zero the week before that.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston saw its COVID-19 inpatient burden trend down for the second straight week, averaging 9.6 per day, down from 11.9 last week and its record of 12.1 the week before. At the city’s other hospital, St. Mary’s, the metric was up slightly to 6.6 per day, up from 5.9 last week but still below the hospital’s peak of 6.7 the week before that.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a high of 198 on Monday and stood at 177 Friday, with 46 in intensive care. On Maine’s worst day of the initial spring surge, only 60 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

An unprecedented number of smaller hospitals had COVID-19 patients this week as well. These included Franklin Memorial in Farmington, Sebasticook Valley in Pittsfield, Blue Hill Hospital, Bridgton Hospital, 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.

The pandemic continues to rage across the country, with states reporting 238,189 positive tests and 3,293 deaths on Thursday alone, more than in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the New York Times tracker. As of Thursday, Maine had the 47th lowest prevalence of the disease in the country, behind Hawaii, Vermont and Oregon.

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, hospitalizations are not dependent on how many people are tested. They can end in three ways: recovery, death or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald’s survey compiles data directly from hospitals. 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, accounting for the nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.

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