The number of COVID-19 patients at almost all of Maine’s hospitals continued to plateau or fall for a third week, despite fresh outbreaks at a Bangor homeless shelter and the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Portland.

The data – which the Portland Press Herald collected directly from Maine’s hospitals – show some of the lowest COVID-19 inpatient counts in weeks at many of state’s largest hospitals, indicating that social distancing measures have been effective at slowing the epidemic, protecting medical facilities from being overwhelmed. Health experts have cautioned that social distancing measures must continue, or else the numbers could creep back up, even as businesses begin to reopen.

Statewide, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations as reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had decreased to 37 Friday from 87 on April 7, the earliest date for which the agency has such data.

Maine Medical Center, which has had roughly half the state’s confirmed COVID-19 inpatients through most of the crisis, had 13 such patients Thursday, the fewest since March 25 and fewer than half its peak of 35 patients on April 7.

Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, which has had the second-heaviest burden, had four patients Thursday, its lowest level since April 2. MaineGeneral in Augusta, the third-most affected, has had three to seven patients since April 2 and had five Thursday.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick has had two patients for the past week, while Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor has had three; both hospitals had a peak of five COVID-19 inpatients earlier in April. York Hospital had one patient Thursday, down from a peak of six on April 6. Three other hospitals – Bridgton, Waldo Memorial in Belfast, and Mercy in Portland – had one or two patients Thursday. Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center had no patients Wednesday, the most recent day it reported.

In all cases, hospitalizations can end three ways: recovery, death or transfer to another facility. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients who were suspected of having the virus but never tested.

The encouraging data came as Maine took the first steps toward loosening the statewide stay-at-home order Gov. Janet Mills enacted March 31. Doctor’s offices, barbers, hair salons, auto dealers, drive-in movie theaters and pet groomers were allowed to partially reopen Friday to Maine residents and visitors who have completed a 14-day quarantine. Mills has said restrictions will be reimposed if coronavirus cases and hospitalizations begin to trend upward again.

Governments worldwide have introduced social distancing measures to “flatten the curve” in an effort to slow the pandemic’s spread so that hospital intensive care units are not overwhelmed by a massive wave of patients.

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