Hospitalizations for COVID-19 fell dramatically at the state’s largest hospital this week as many patients from congregate settings who were being treated there died or recovered.

At Maine Medical Center, which has had nearly half of the state’s confirmed coronavirus inpatients through most of the crisis, the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients fell from 34 to 10 over the week ending Thursday. That is its lowest patient count since March 24, at the beginning of the crisis.

“We had a large number of admissions from nursing homes, assisted living facilities and some group homes from around the 20thof May and for about a week,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, Maine Med’s parent institution. “Unfortunately, a number of people passed away, which you can see reflected in the death numbers in the statewide data, while also some people recovered and returned home.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 14 deaths from the disease during the period.

Elsewhere, hospitalizations remained generally stable, according to data that the Press Herald collected directly from Maine hospitals.

At Portland’s other major hospital, Mercy, the number of inpatients oscillated between five and eight, down slightly from eight to 10 the previous week, which was the busiest that hospital had experienced during the pandemic. Between April 15 and April 28, Mercy had had no such patients at all, but its burden has crept steadily upward for a month, and it now has the third largest number of cumulative COVID-19 inpatient days in the state.

The data, which come as southern Maine is experiencing elevated case counts compared with a lull in mid-April, covers the seven days ending June 4. In Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, the seven-day average of newly confirmed cases rose steadily in late April and early May, more than tripling in Cumberland and going up by nearly twenty-fold in Androscoggin. Both counties have plateaued at these higher levels over the past week, according to data from the Maine CDC.

On Thursday, York County’s seven-day average stood at 4.4 new cases a day, about twice its late April low.

Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center in Biddeford – which has had the most pandemic inpatients overall after Maine Med – had inpatient levels comparable to what it experienced early in the pandemic: between four and seven inpatients being treated each day, much the same as the previous week. But York Hospital has remained quiet, reporting no COVID-19 inpatients for the second week running.

Androscoggin County has seen a surge in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Hospitalizations for the disease slacked off at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, going to between zero and three inpatients each day, compared to three to five the week before. Lewiston-Auburn’s other large hospital, St. Mary’s, did not provide its data for the second week in a row.

MaineGeneral in Augusta, the hospital that has had the fourth largest pandemic burden, also had stable coronavirus inpatient levels at two to four a day for a second week.

Hospitals in other parts of the state had flat or declining pandemic patient loads for a seventh week,including Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which had one to two patients a day during the period, compared to a peak of seven on May 6. Brunswick’s Mid Coast Hospital hasn’t had a COVID-19 inpatient since May 23.

Bridgton Hospital had one patient most of the week, but several smaller hospitals that had patients in the past reported none for the week, including Franklin Memorial in Farmington, Sebasticook Valley in Pittsfield and Waldo in Belfast.

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.

Dr. Mills, a former director of the Maine CDC, said the new case and hospitalization patterns Maine had seen in recent weeks – surges and troughs often linked to outbreaks in factories, nursing homes and other congregate settings – are likely to continue for some time. “We’ve had two chapters in this pandemic: The first was flattening the curve, and since early May the new chapter has been learning how to coexist with COVID,” she said in an interview Friday. “For the foreseeable future we will see ups and downs like we’ve seen.”

Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the CDC is monitoring the data over 14-day rolling time frames “to ascertain and respond to meaningful trends.”

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, because it typically takes two or three weeks after exposure for an acutely effected person to become sick enough to be admitted, but it is one metric that is not effected by how many people are tested.

Maine is in the midst of a phased reopening from its statewide lockdown, with barbershops, retail outlets, restaurant dining rooms, state beaches, and other business activities now having resumed in most of the state.

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