LEWISTON — Though there is a new, more contagious COVID-19 subvariant driving new cases in the Northeast, local hospital officials say they aren’t seeing a spike in patients.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, speaks to journalists in December 2021 about a mass vaccination clinic in the Augusta Armory lobby. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The latest strain, an omicron subvariant called XBB, accounts for about a third of all cases nationwide and over 70% of cases across New England, New York and New Jersey, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah and data from the federal CDC.

“Based on what we know right now, it appears to be more contagious and as a result, there may be more cases,” Shah said in a prerecorded video posted to the Maine CDC’s social channels Tuesday.

Shah noted that although more contagious, XBB does not appear to be more clinically severe than prior variants, meaning that although more people may test positive for COVID, it does not appear to be causing more severe illness.

However, he said, when more people get sick it is likely that hospitalizations will go up as well as a matter of pure numbers.

Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center continue to have a steady number of COVID patients but no recent spikes, hospital officials said Wednesday.


“We have a very steady census of patients with COVID, both in the (emergency department) and in our hospitals, over the last several months,” Dr. John Alexander, chief operating officer for CMMC parent company Central Maine Healthcare, said in an email.

“The new variant has not created any sort of spike in cases as we saw last year at this time, owed mostly to the fact that people have either been vaccinated or have contracted COVID, lessening the symptoms upon reinfection,” he said.

St. Mary’s situation is much the same, spokesperson Steve Costello said. Emergency Department Nursing Director Heather Nadeau said the ED continues to see a lot of patients with respiratory issues related to RSV, flu and other viruses but not so much due to COVID.

There are only a few patients admitted with COVID at St. Mary’s, Costello said, and some are there for other medical reasons and happen to also have COVID.

Statewide, 136 patients were hospitalized with COVID as of Wednesday, according to the Maine CDC. There were 28 patients in critical care and seven people on ventilators.

There was an average of 142 people hospitalized daily over the past 14 days, which is about 18% higher compared to the average two weeks ago.


The dominance of yet another COVID subvariant stands in stark contrast to the situation in Maine around this time last year.

Omicron quickly spread across Maine during the last month of 2021, putting massive pressure on Maine’s disease surveillance systems, leading to weeks of testing backlogs.

Hospitals, too, were crushed with COVID hospitalizations. There were 16 consecutive days, from Jan. 12 to 27, 2022, where there were more than 400 patients hospitalized in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills activated more than 200 National Guard members in December 2021 and early 2022 to assist health care centers, including at several Central Maine Healthcare locations, St. Mary’s and Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.

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