The number of COVID-19 inpatients at most Maine hospitals remained flat for a fifth week, with a previous uptick in Bangor having faded.

The data, which the Press Herald collected directly from the hospitals, show a low level of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients across the state over the past week, a further confirmation that strict social distancing measures in effect throughout April slowed the pandemic and protected medical facilities from being overwhelmed.

Maine Medical Center, which has had nearly half of the state’s confirmed coronavirus inpatients through most of the crisis, had between 12 and 16 in the seven days ending Thursday, down from a peak of 35 patients April 7. York County’s hospitals – Southern Maine Health Center in Biddeford and York Hospital in York – each had zero or one patient over the same period.

MaineGeneral in Augusta, the third most affected after SMHC, had one or two inpatients each day, while Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital had two to three. Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center, which had seen an uptick to between between six and seven COVID-19 patients the previous week, saw its patient count steadily fall from six to two.

Two hospitals saw modest increases over the week. Mercy Hospital in Portland – which had no patients for two weeks in mid-April – has seen its patient count creep up from one to six since April 29. Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center, which had no COVID-19 inpatients in late April, had between two and five each night, up from zero to three the previous week.

Two smaller hospitals – Franklin Memorial in Farmington and Waldo in Belfast – started the week with one patient each but had none by Thursday.

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

The data is unlikely to reflect the effect of the reopening of barber shops, hairdressers and other business statewide May 1 – or of retail outlets in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties May 8 – because there is a often nearly a two-week lag between initial exposure to the virus and hospitalizations.

The median incubation period before experiencing symptoms is 5.1 days, according to a May 5 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. After experiencing the first symptoms, it often takes about a week for an acutely infected person to wind up in the hospital, Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Press Herald.

Governments worldwide 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. On May 1, Gov. Mills began lifting some of the restrictions she had imposed March 31, followed announcements of further liberalizations, including the resumption of restaurant dining in 12 counties May 18 and out-of-state hotel and lodging guests statewide starting June 1.

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