COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped again on Monday to levels not seen since before Thanksgiving as pandemic conditions continue to ease in Maine.

Hospitalizations declined from 291 on Sunday to 275 on Monday, a 37 percent drop from the pandemic peak of 436 on Jan. 13 and the lowest since Nov. 19. The number or intensive care unit patients ticked down from 67 on Sunday to 65 on Monday. Hospitalizations have trended downward on most days since late January as the omicron wave peaked and began a steady decline.


John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other Maine hospitals, said hospitalizations in the MaineHealth network stood at 55 on Monday, down from the peak of just under 200 during the last week of January.

Maine Med has relaxed its visitation policies as conditions have improved.

Porter said MaineHealth is considering rescheduling elective surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, that had been delayed to maintain capacity for COVID-19 patients.


“We have started to talk about increasing the number of procedures we do each day, and looking at our backlog of postponed procedures,” Porter said.

Nationally, hospitalizations have decreased substantially, with 25 percent fewer hospitalizations the week of Feb. 2-8 compared with the week of Jan. 26-Feb. 1, according to the latest weekly comparison by the U.S. CDC.

Meanwhile, as conditions improve, restrictions and safety policies are being loosened. Last week, Portland rescinded its indoor mask mandate, which will be lifted on Feb. 17. School superintendents and officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention met last week and are continuing discussions about pandemic recommendations such as indoor masking and testing, among other issues.

Maine does not have a statewide mask mandate for schools, but most schools follow the Maine CDC recommendations and enforce local mandates that require universal masking. The Maine CDC and Maine Department of Education say schools that don’t have universal masking in place should have stricter quarantine policies for students and staff exposed to COVID-19.

Some Maine school leaders are looking to the CDC to revise the guidelines to say masks are optional or will be soon, similar to announcements made in other states that have formal mandates.

Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all set dates for when school mask mandates will expire, or indicated when they likely will. Masks will become optional, or are likely to, on Feb. 28 in Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, and on March 4 in Rhode Island. New Hampshire, like Maine, has not set a date for optional masking, but the state epidemiologist told New Hampshire Public Radio last week that recommendations on school masking could change soon.


In another sign that the pandemic is ebbing in Maine, the average number of daily positive tests reported to the Maine CDC declined to 883 for the week of Feb. 7-11, down from 1,404 the previous week, a 37 percent decline. It has plummeted 72 percent from a peak of 3,188 during the week of Jan. 10-14. The number of raw positive tests reported to the Maine CDC is different than confirmed cases in part because some positive tests are duplicates that result from retesting.

The positivity rate – the percent of all tests conducted that come back positive – also has declined, another good sign. The positivity rate stood at 8.6 percent on Monday, compared to 14.4 percent two weeks ago and more than 20 percent at the peak of the omicron wave in mid-January.

The number of confirmed cases is no longer a reliable metric for measuring current pandemic trends because Maine is dealing with a substantial backlog of more than 50,000 cases that have yet to be processed.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine CDC, said Monday that the agency is currently going through the backlog. As a result, the number of confirmed cases will increase dramatically starting Tuesday as tests submitted weeks ago get added to the case count.

“Maine CDC has been processing a backlog of positive test results that accumulated because of the omicron surge. In recent days, we launched a system to automate a portion of this process,” Long said in a statement. “As a result, for several days starting with the update on Feb. 15, the Maine CDC webpage will show a significant increase in the day-to-day tallies of total cases, confirmed cases, and probable cases. Deaths, hospitalizations, and wastewater screening data remain the best metrics to determine the evolving impact of COVID-19.”

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