Maine’s top public health official issued a warning Wednesday that critical care bed capacity is rapidly shrinking across the state as COVID-19 hospitalizations again reached a record high on Thanksgiving.

On Thursday, the state reported 327 people in hospitals, 108 in ICUs and 39 on ventilators – the highest numbers seen in Maine so far during the pandemic.

A day earlier, there were 314 individuals in the hospital, 103 of them in critical care. In two weeks, hospitalizations in Maine have increased by 40 percent and the number of people in critical care has jumped by 49 percent.

“These numbers are sobering,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah posted on Twitter. “For the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 300 people are hospitalized w/#COVID19 in #Maine. They are a reminder that the virus will not be taking time off for holidays.”

Shah urged people to get vaccinated and, if already vaccinated, to get a booster.

“Prevention is better than treatment. Do not bank on there being an ICU bed if you get sick.”

CDC spokesman Robert Long said Shah’s caution about ICU beds was aimed at people “who view getting COVID as a comparable option to getting vaccinated.”

“It’s not, but despite the growing body of evidence, some people continue to hold fast to that perspective,” Long said in an email, adding that the worrisome hospitalization trend “continues to be exacerbated by individuals who choose not to get vaccinated and then end up requiring critical care.”

Health officials have been warning for weeks that hospitals are strained from the effects of COVID-19. Many have postponed elective surgeries and have been holding patients in the emergency room while waiting for other beds to clear. To make matters worse, some patients who are cleared to leave the hospital have had to stay because they can’t find a bed at a nursing home amid staffing shortages.

Jeff Austin, vice president of the Maine Hospital Association, said he couldn’t say much that hasn’t been said already.

“It’s bad out there. Heavy caseloads, worker shortage, now the holidays. Hospitals are carrying a very heavy load right now,” he said.

The number of available critical care beds statewide on Thursday stood at 55, according to the CDC – 41 for adults and 14 for children. But that number is fluid. Hospitals have the ability to convert other beds to ICU beds if needed.

Officials have generally not answered directly when asked what the threshold would be for hospitals to start turning patients away. As patient counts have risen, the state has provided additional flexibility for smaller rural hospitals to care for patients who might otherwise have been treated at larger regional hospitals.

Shah also said the many health care workers across Maine who won’t get to spend the day with family deserve thanks.

“We can show our appreciation for them by getting vaccinated, or helping someone else do so,” he said.

Most hospitalized patients have not been fully vaccinated, and hospitals serving less-vaccinated parts of the state are feeling the most strain on staffs and resources.

The two major medical centers serving central and western Maine are amid their worst COVID-19 surge yet, with both seeing record numbers of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients in recent days.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston hit a record of 30 such patients Tuesday, the most recent data available, while MaineGeneral in Augusta broke and rebroke its record on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when it had 34 inpatients. Officials at both hospitals have said the ongoing surge is because of high community transmission of the disease in the counties they serve.

In addition to the record hospitalizations, state health officials reported 548 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the two-day total to 1,541 cases, another elevated total that comes as many Mainers gathered for Thanksgiving.

Three additional deaths were reported Wednesday as well, on top of 28 deaths reported Tuesday. There were no additional deaths reported Thursday. Half of the deaths reported Tuesday occurred between Oct. 27 and Nov. 9 and were identified through a periodic review of death certificates.

With Thursday’s cases, the seven-day average is 634, which is among the highest of any point during the pandemic, according to data tracked by the Maine CDC. Two weeks ago, the state was averaging 547 cases per day, and this time last month the average was 463.

Since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, there have been 117,941 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 and 1,303 deaths.

Cases have increased by nearly 30 percent across the country in the last month, according to U.S. CDC data, and they now average 93,668 per day. Maine’s rate of transmission, 362 cases per 100,000 people, ranks ninth among all states and is nearly double the national rate of 198 cases per 100,000. The number of deaths nationwide has not yet increased with the recent surge, and it is still averaging 1,000 per day across the country. In all, 772,180 people have died since the pandemic began, according to the U.S. CDC.

Vaccinations have been increasing steadily, too, although those numbers are being driven largely by booster doses and first doses for children 5-11. There remain large pockets of unvaccinated people in many rural areas, and that’s where the virus has been spreading most.

At one end is Cumberland County, where 77 percent of residents are vaccinated. Three other coastal counties – Sagadahoc, Knox and Lincoln – also have rates above 70 percent. At the other end, four counties have yet to cross the 60 percent threshold – Somerset, Piscataquis, Franklin and Oxford.

Overall, Maine has administered 911,301 final doses of vaccine, which represents 67.79 percent of all Mainers.

The numbers of vaccinations reported by the state have decreased in recent days as the CDC has reclassified some doses as booster doses that originally were submitted to the state as final doses. As of Wednesday, 268,360 people had gotten boosters, or 20 percent of the population.

Staff Writer Colin Woodard contributed to this report.

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