Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Maine hit their lowest levels since before Thanksgiving, with most hospitals across the state enjoying a now-monthlong reprieve in burden, increasing hopes that the worst of the second surge may be past.

The total number of people hospitalized for the disease statewide fell to 100 on Thursday, the lowest level since Nov. 20 and less than half the peak of 207 set on Jan. 13. Twenty-two people were in intensive care, the lowest level since Nov. 13.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients fell at all of Maine’s major hospitals for the week ending Thursday, with most experiencing the lowest burden levels since before the Thanksgiving holiday, which catalyzed the winter surge that raged across the U.S.

“The bottom line in respect not only to hospitalizations but to positivity rates, new daily cases and deaths, is that the numbers are all pointing in a favorable direction,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah told the Portland Press Herald on Thursday. “That’s a great thing, but the question is if there is any permanence to this trend or if it is really that we are in the eye of the storm, which I believe.

“This good news should not be determined to be an ‘all clear’ sign, and this is not the time to let our guard down,” Shah added.

Maine Medical Center in Portland – the state’s largest hospital with 613 beds – cared for an average of 24.9 COVID-19 inpatients each day for the week ending Thursday, down from 32.6 last week and far below the peak of 40.9 set the third week of January. At nearby Mercy Hospital, the figure fell to a daily average of 1.9 inpatients, down from 4.5 last week and a tiny fraction of that hospital’s record level of 14.9 set in mid-December.

York County’s largest hospital, the 158-bed Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, also saw a significant decline, reporting an average of 5.1 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week, down from 8.9 last week and the lowest level since mid-November. York Hospital in York, a 48-bed community hospital that was hit hard by the disease in late December and early January, cared for an average of just 0.9 COVID-19 inpatients each day over the past week, down sharply from 3.6 the prior week and less than one-tenth of its record level of 10.7.

Eastern Maine Medical Center – the busiest COVID-19 hospital in the state for much of December – saw its burden fall to an average of 16.1 COVID-19 inpatients a day, down from 19.6 in each of the previous two weeks. The Bangor hospital had treated a peak of 51.9 COVID-19 inpatients per day at the end of December, which remains the most demanding week experienced by any Maine hospital during the pandemic.

MaineGeneral in Augusta reported an average of 12.3 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week, down from 14.9 the week before. At Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital, the number fell to 3.6 inpatients from 6.9 last week, making it the quietest week since late November.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston had its lightest week in more than a month, with a daily average of 7.9 COVID-19 inpatients for the six days ending Wednesday, down from 11.3 the previous week and the peak of 16 set the week before that. St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center across town had 6.7 COVID-19 inpatients per day on average, down from last week’s record-setting level of 10.9.

The only hospital to experience a new peak of burden was Bridgton Hospital, a 25-bed community hospital, which had an average of 5.1 COVID-19 inpatients each day. This is a product of a strategic effort by its parent entity, Central Maine Healthcare, which has been beefing up the COVID-19 capabilities at Bridgton and Rumford to care for local, less acutely affected patients, according to CMHC’s chief medical officer, Dr. John Alexander.

Several other small hospitals reported having COVID-19 inpatients this week, including Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Rumford Hospital, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta, Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth, AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle, and Mayo Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft.

The pandemic continued to ease slightly in the United States, with states reporting 94,893 positive tests and 3,255 deaths on Wednesday, according to The New York Times tracker, a death toll that remains substantially higher than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Maine had been one of the best performing states for much of the pandemic, but during the winter surge it rose to the middle of the pack in terms of per capita disease prevalence, hitting 32nd among the states two weeks ago. The situation has improved over the past two weeks, and Maine stood at 42nd in disease prevalence for the seven days ending Wednesday, the same ranking as a week ago.

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

The Press Herald’s survey is for the seven days ending Feb. 11. It compiles data received 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, but not all, of the state’s hospitals, accounting for nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.


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