Hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit record levels this week, with the burden shifting to southern Maine’s hospitals even as it eased at Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center.

On Thursday, a record 202 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide with 55 in intensive care, also a record number. But the geography of hospitalizations shifted southward during the week, driving confirmed COVID-19 inpatient numbers to record levels at York County’s hospitals and at Maine Medical Center in Portland, the state’s largest hospital.

MaineMed had an average of 38 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, up from 31.6 last week and topping the previous record of 36.7 per day set in November. Fifteen COVID-19 patients were in intensive care Thursday at the 613-bed hospital, which has about 117 adult intensive care beds for all purposes. Its parent entity, MaineHealth, did not respond to a request to discuss the effect on capacity and services Thursday.

Southern Maine Medical Center, also part of MaineHealth, also had its heaviest week since the pandemic began in Maine in March. The 158-bed Biddeford hospital reported an average of 27 COVID-19 inpatients a day, up from 23.9 last week, which had also been a record.

Much smaller York Hospital, with 48 beds, also set a pandemic record with an average of 10.7 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients a day, up from 8.6 last week as well as the previous record of 8.7 set three weeks before that. The hospital reported 12 COVID-19 inpatients Thursday, tied for the worst single day number there.

“These numbers are not unexpected given the substantial increase in community spread of COVID-19 in York County and the surrounding areas,” Dr. Gretchen Volpe, infectious disease physician at York Hospital, said via email. “Fortunately, due to our hospital-wide planning and coordination efforts since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been able to adjust to this increase as required in terms of capacity.”

St. Mary’s in Lewiston tied its all-time record, too, with an average of 6.7 COVID-19 inpatients each day for the week ending Thursday, up from 4.6 last week.

But the burden eased at EMMC, the primary medical hub for the northeastern half of the state, which for weeks has been the hardest-hit facility in the state. The 352-bed hospital saw an average of 47 COVID-19 inpatients per day this week, down from a record-setting 51.9 last week, but higher than the 44 seen the week before that. Inpatient numbers remained still higher than at MaineMed, with 40 reported Thursday.

A spokesperson for EMMC’s parent entity, Northern Light Healthcare, Suzanne Spruce, said via email that they had no ready explanation for the decline. “We are still very busy caring for patients, and we are preparing for a post-holiday increase,” she said.

During the spring surge, EMMC saw very few COVID-19 patients compared to the southern part of the state. During much of  the summer there were often no COVID-19 patients admitted at all.

The pressure also lifted slightly at A.R. Gould in Presque Isle, where COVID-19 inpatient numbers fell to 2.6 per day, down from a record-setting 3.6 average last week. The 48-bed hospital didn’t admit its first inpatient with the virus until Oct. 28.

Another Aroostook County hospital, Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, declined to share inpatient numbers, the first Maine hospital to do so. Federal data for the week ending Dec. 31 indicates the 42-bed hospital had 11 confirmed inpatients for the week, or 1.7 per day, and 4 in intensive care. The data reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services starting last month lags the Press Herald’s survey by a week.

Most of the state’s other hospitals saw their COVID-19 burden flatten, though at historically high levels.

Portland’s Mercy Hospital saw its burden decline to an average of 6.3 a day, down from 6.6 last week and 10.1 the week before. Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick saw its burden fall to 4.6 per day, down from 7.9 last week and a record-setting 9.3 the week before that.

MaineGeneral in Augusta also saw an easing to 8.7 per day, down from 12.1 last week and the record average of 17.4 set two weeks before that. Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center had an average of 7.7 COVID patients per day, similar to the past two weeks when the figure was 8 per day.

Many smaller hospitals had COVID-19 patients this week. In addition to those previously mentioned, these included Franklin Memorial in Farmington, Sebasticook Valley in Pittsfield, PenBay Medical Center in Rockport, Inland Hospital in Waterville, Stephens Memorial in Norway, Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth, Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft and Rumford, Bridgeton and Blue Hill Hospitals.

For 2020 as a whole, MaineMed carried the heaviest total COVID-19 hospitalization burden, with over 3,500 inpatient nights of care. It was followed by EMMC (1,791), SMHC (over 1,420), and MaineGeneral (1,165).

The pandemic continues to rage across the country, with states reporting 255,728 positive tests and 3,964 deaths on Wednesday alone, according to The New York Times tracker. The death toll was substantially more than in either of the two deadliest battles of the Civil War, the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, or in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Maine has been one of the best performing states for much of the pandemic, but over the past two weeks it has surged ahead of Washington, Michigan, North Dakota, and other several states and now places 42nd among the states in terms of prevalence of the disease over the seven days ending Wednesday.

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator in that they typically occur one to three weeks after a person is exposed to the disease, but unlike other metrics, it is not dependent on who and how many people were tested. They can end in three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald’s survey is for the seven days ending Jan. 7. It compiles data received directly from the hospitals and hospital networks. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients suspected of having the virus but who were never tested. It includes most, but not all, of the state’s hospitals, accounting for the nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine CDC.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.