Maine health officials reported 795 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, continuing a post-Thanksgiving rise in the pace of infections.

Two additional deaths were reported as well, including an individual in their 40s.

The seven-day average now stands at 518 cases, compared to 472 cases on average this time last month, and health officials expect it to keep climbing on the heels of holiday gatherings that helped accelerate the spread. The arrival in the United States of the new omicron variant, which some worry might be more transmissible but possibly milder, creates yet another layer of uncertainty.

Five states now have confirmed cases of the omicron variant, which also has been detected in other countries since it was first identified by health officials in South Africa.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week that while omicron is concerning, it’s not a cause for panic yet.

“The question now is not whether it’s a concern but whether it’s a threat and if so, to what degree,” he said. “The bottom line there is that more scientific data are needed before we jump to any conclusions.”

With Friday’s cases, there have been 122,242 confirmed or probable cases since the pandemic began and 1,332 people have died, according to data tracked by the Maine CDC. Even with the surge, both are among the lowest per capita of any state.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine stood at 329 on Friday, the 1oth consecutive day of at least 300. Of those, 104 were in critical care and 52 were on ventilators. Two out of every three patients hospitalized is unvaccinated, the CDC has said, and roughly 90 percent of those in critical care have not had their vaccines.

REGIONAL HOSPITALS HARD HIT

Hospitalizations have been at record levels throughout the week, with the regional hospitals serving central and western Maine continuing to care for unprecedented numbers of inpatients for the fourth week running.

MaineGeneral in Augusta reported it was caring for a record 35.7 COVID-19 inpatients a night for the week ending Thursday, up from the previous high, 28.4 a night last week. This week’s level is nearly double the peak seen by the 198-bed hospital in any previous surge. Wednesday was the worst single day ever reported there, with 39 COVID inpatients being cared for.

“We are fortunate to have been able to maintain inpatient services and have not had to divert patients at this time,” MaineGeneral spokesperson Joy McKenna said in an email, but added that if the surge continued they were prepared to take steps to adjust services if needed.

“With the holiday season now upon us, we are asking all Maine people to take steps to stay healthy and, in regards to COVID, to please get vaccinated,” she said.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston also set a record for the five days ending Tuesday, with an average of 31.4 COVID inpatients being cared for each day, up from 26.6 last week. The 250-bed hospital saw its single day high – 35 inpatients – on Nov. 26.

Smaller hospitals also are seeing record numbers.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick also set a record with 13.4 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, as did Inland Hospital in Waterville with 5.7 a night, up from 4.9 last week. Mid Coast has 93 adult beds overall. Inland has 36.

A.R. Gould, a small, 48-bed critical care hospital in Presque Isle that cared for an average of 11 COVID patients a night for the week ending Thursday, more than doubled its previous high of 5.3 set last week.

The state’s largest hospitals, Maine Medical Center in Portland (615 beds) and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor (322 beds) both reported high and increased inpatient loads, but both were still below their previous record levels set during last winter’s surge.

As for vaccinations, Maine has administered 919,635 final doses of vaccine, representing 68.4 percent of all residents, and 313,836 booster doses, which is 23.3 percent of the state’s roughly 1.3 million residents. Maine’s rate of boosters is higher than every other state except Vermont, according to a tracker by Bloomberg.

But Maine’s vaccination rate remains low in many areas, which means there are large pockets of unvaccinated people who are driving transmission. Over the last 14 days, the county with the highest vaccination rate – Cumberland – had the second lowest virus transmission per capita of any county. The county with the lowest transmission in the last two weeks, Knox County, has the third highest vaccination rate. Conversely, lower vaccinated counties – Androscoggin, Oxford and Piscataquis, in particular – are seeing far higher rates of cases lately.

Similar to Maine, the United States saw the number of new cases drop over the last several days as testing dried up around the holiday. But, as expected, things are picking back up. As of Thursday evening, the seven-day case average was 86,412, according to the U.S. CDC, which is down 8 percent from 94,170 cases on average two weeks ago.

 

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