The number of hospital patients with COVID-19 dropped below 100 statewide Wednesday, but mixed signals in Maine and increasing case counts in other northeastern states make it difficult to predict the pandemic’s trajectory.

There were 99 people hospitalized in Maine with COVID on Wednesday, a decline from 104 on Monday and Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. Before the number of patients rose above 100 this week, it had hovered in the 90s for more than two weeks.

The state also reported 276 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death.

The entire nation continues to record case counts and hospitalizations far below the numbers experienced at the peak of the omicron wave in January. Nationwide, case numbers have slightly declined – by around 1 percent – over the past two weeks, even as the more contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant has spread. But COVID cases are on the rise again in pockets of the country, including the Northeast, where omicron BA.2 spread first and became the dominant strain of the virus about two weeks ago.

Massachusetts’ average daily case count has risen 68 percent over the past two weeks, according to the New York Times pandemic tracker. And cases have risen 60 percent in Connecticut, 77 percent in New York, 57 percent in New Jersey and 28 percent in Rhode Island.

On Friday, two New Jersey high schools brought back mask mandates to curb the spread of BA.2 and New York Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city will retain its school mask mandate for students under 5 years old, The New York Times reported.

Advertisement

The data in Maine is less clear about where the pandemic is headed, although the state typically lags the more populated Northeast states.

Maine’s average daily case count has increased 7 percent in two weeks. New Hampshire’s has increased 6 percent.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said this week that wastewater surveillance testing also was showing an overall increase in virus levels. Wastewater testing for COVID-19 is considered a leading indicator, with changes in virus prevalence showing up before case counts and hospitalizations increase.

But wastewater testing data in Maine has been mixed, with some sampling sites showing more virus and others showing stable or declining levels. The Portland Water District’s large regional treatment plants in Portland and Westbrook have not detected any significant increase in the virus, for example.

A CDC spokesman said Tuesday that the combined results of statewide wastewater data showed a slight increase during the past week.

Meanwhile, the rate of positive tests remains low in Maine. As of Tuesday, 3.1 percent of COVID tests were coming back positive.

Advertisement

Shah acknowledged the mixed signals in a series of Twitter posts Tuesday and said it’s not yet clear if Maine will see a significant increase in the virus.

“It’s too early to tell if these data points are signals or noise. Indeed, with epidemics, it’s often only in retrospect that trends are identified and confirmed,” Shah wrote.

Even as case counts rise in the Northeast, hospitalizations have continued to decline. Hospital patient counts typically rise two to three weeks after daily case counts increase. However, while many U.S. experts are expecting a rise in cases because of omicron BA.2, they do not expect a significant increase in hospitalizations.

Doctors and public health officials in the United States have been somewhat wary of the BA.2 omicron subvariant because of surges in cases in other parts of the world.

But because vaccinations are working well and prior infections provide some immunity, and because of the increasing availability of the antiviral drug Paxlovid, U.S. experts are not expecting a major surge in hospitalizations.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.