Hospitalizations for COVID-19 trended downward across much of Maine this week, making for a nearly monthlong pause in what had been an unrelenting increase in the burden on the state’s hospitals.

The total number of people hospitalized for the disease statewide fell to 145 on Thursday, the lowest level since Dec. 3 and well below the peak of 207 on Jan. 13. Forty-six people were in intensive care, the lowest level since Jan. 2.

The exceptions: St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and hospitals in two western Maine towns, Rumford and Bridgton, which all saw their worst week of the pandemic. However, over the preceding 48 hours the number of COVID-19 inpatients at St. Mary’s had declined, and a hospital spokesman said the proportion of patients at the 51-bed hospital testing positive for the coronavirus decreased from 11.4 percent to 6.7 percent over the past week.

“Our ICU was at capacity for a few days with COVID patients but at the same time we began to see the 7 day positivity rate begin to decline,” hospital spokesman Stephen Costello said via email, suggesting pressure would likely continue to ease. “We are hopeful that this trend will continue.”

St. Mary’s was caring for an average of 10.6 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, up from 10.1 last week, which had also been a record.

Rumford Hospital, with 25 beds, set a record of 2.9 per day, up from 1.9 last week. Its sister hospital in Bridgton also set a record, averaging 4.3 COVID-19 inpatients cared for per day, up from 1.9 last week. Both hospitals are owned by Central Maine Healthcare, the parent of 250-bed Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, but it was not clear Thursday afternoon whether the increases were due to a change in burden-sharing strategy by the hospital network.

CMMC, which had set a pandemic record last week, saw its COVID-19 burden ease, with the daily average number of test-positive inpatients being cared for falling from 16 to 11.3.

The burden of caring for people acutely affected by the virus has shifted around the state over the past two months in ways that have defied easy explanation, hammering Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center in December before shifting south to hospitals in Portland and Lewiston. Officials at the affected hospitals and the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention have said in recent weeks that the trends don’t clearly reflect new case numbers in the same regions or an obvious link to outbreaks.

The pressure continued to ease or plateau at the state’s other major hospitals as well, as has been the case at most for two weeks running.

Maine Medical Center in Portland – the state’s largest with 613 beds – reported an average of 32.6 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, down from 39.3 last week. At Mercy Hospital just down the hill, the figure was 4.5, down from 9.6 last week and a third of the record level of 14.9 in mid-December.

York County’s largest hospital, 158-bed Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center in Biddeford, had an average of 8.9 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week compared to 13.6 last week and the lowest level since mid-November. York Hospital, a 48-bed community hospital that was hit hard by the disease a month ago, cared for an average of 3.6, COVID-19 inpatients each day this week, up slightly from 2.9 last week but far bellow the record of 10.7 in early January.

EMMC – which was the busiest COVID-19 hospital in the state for much of December – had flat demand, holding at 19.6 COVID-19 inpatients a day for a second week, far below its peak of 51.9 per day at the end of December, which was the most demanding week experienced by any Maine hospital since the pandemic began.

MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta reported an average of 14.9 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week, barely changed from 14 the week before, while at Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital the number went from 5.9 last week to 6.9 for the week ending Thursday, well shy of its peak of 9.3 per day the week ending Christmas Day.

At Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport – which has recently become another COVID-19 treatment hub for the MaineHealth hospital system – the number of such inpatients dropped to an average of 4.1 per day, down sharply from 7.9 last week and the record level 8.3 the week before that.

A.R. Gould, a 48-bed hospital in Presque Isle, had no COVID-19 inpatients for the week for the first time since early November.

Other small hospitals that did report having COVID-19 inpatients this week included Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, Inland in Waterville, Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth, Stephens Memorial in Norway and Franklin Memorial in Farmington.

The pandemic continued to ease slightly in the United States, with states reporting 119,014 positive tests and 3,843 deaths on Wednesday, according to The New York Times tracker, a death toll that remains substantially higher than either of the worst days of the two deadliest battles of the Civil War, the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, or during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Maine had been one of the best-performing states for much of the pandemic, but in recent weeks moved to the middle of the pack. However, this week its standing improved from having the 32nd worst per capita prevalence of the disease among the states to 42nd worst, measured over the seven days ending Wednesday.

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, accounting for nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.


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