Maine COVID-19 hospitalizations decline but remain near record highs

Hospitalizations fell Friday but remain at a near-record low as sick COVID-19 patients fill Maine hospitals.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 fell from 436 on Thursday – an all-time pandemic high – to 424 on Friday. Patients in intensive care rose from 103 on Thursday to 109 on Friday, while patients requiring mechanical ventilation rose from 53 on Thursday to 57 on Friday.

While intensive care utilization has increased since Thursday, the number of intensive care patients has remained relatively stable in recent weeks.

Maine’s experience is similar to reports from other places that have seen an increase in omicron, where hospitalizations are skyrocketing but ICU admissions are holding steady or declining. Omicron, according to early research, appears to cause a milder form of the disease compared to delta and earlier variants.

Maine crossed the 300 patient threshold less than two months ago and peaked at just over 200 patients during the winter surge a year ago.

Also on Friday, Maine reported 1,411 cases of COVID-19 and 18 additional deaths.

While the omicron variant is clearly driving a wave of infections in Maine and across the country, public health experts are increasingly downplaying case counts as a way to track the pandemic and assess the risks. These numbers are less helpful due to a lag in reporting test results, the proliferation of at-home testing that isn’t reported to the state, and the fact that many people with mild symptoms don’t get not test at all. Since the start of the pandemic, Maine has recorded 159,498 cases and 1,644 deaths.

Meanwhile, the omicron variant is causing an increase in the number of cases in schools, with some districts moving away altogether or some schools in their district moving away.

MSAD School District 51 — which includes the cities of Cumberland and North Yarmouth — will head to remote learning on Friday, with plans to return Tuesday, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. vacation.

“It’s been a tough week for MSAD 51 schools,” Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an email to parents. “We experienced severe staff shortages for most of the week, with around 15% of our staff absent each day due to illness. We also had a large number of pupils absent from school this week – between 160 and 215 pupils per day, with the highest absence (on Thursdays).

Some of the schools in Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Brunswick, Gorham, South Portland, Scarborough, Windham and Portland have also had distance days recently.

At RSU 5 – which serves students in Freeport, Durham and Pownal – the district is reporting 367 cases of COVID-19, although schools remain in person for now. The district is asking people to be substitute teachers and volunteers to help continue in-person learning.

“It continued to be another tough week for COVID in RSU 5,” Superintendent Becky Foley said in a letter to parents Friday. “Hopefully we’re nearing the peak of this latest surge and starting to see cases go down next week.”

This story will be updated.

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