Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit a record level at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for the second straight week while major medical centers in other Maine cities continued to contend with a surge of unvaccinated patients requiring intensive care.

CMMC has been the second hardest hit hospital in the state for the past three weeks, behind Portland’s Maine Medical Center, which has more than twice as many inpatient beds. For the week ending Thursday, CMMC’s staff was caring for an average of 20.4 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients each day, up from the previous record of 18.6 set last week. Its COVID-19 inpatient count on both Friday and Saturday – 24 – were the worst single days of the pandemic thus far at the 250-bed hospital, though the number fell to 16 Thursday.

On several days this week, three-fourths of the COVID-19 patients at CMMC were in intensive care, and three of them died last week.

Dr. John Alexander, chief medical officer of CMMC’s parent, Central Maine Healthcare, said the hospital remained very busy and urged Mainers to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, and health care workers.

“With increased travel and variants circulating in the community, we continue to see COVID patients who are much younger and much sicker than those we saw earlier,” he said in a written statement Thursday evening. “The vast majority are also unvaccinated.”

A week ago CMMC doctors said nearly half of their COVID-19 inpatients were under the age of 60, a sharp contrast from previous phases of the pandemic when almost all acutely affected patients were older.

CMMC is the only hospital in the state experiencing record-breaking numbers at a time when nearly half the state’s residents have been fully vaccinated and Gov. Janet Mills just announced plans to lift many social distancing restrictions. Statewide hospitalizations remained elevated this week compared to the March lull and on Thursday stood at 118, with 48 in intensive care. By comparison, in October the figure stood in single digits most days, often with nobody in intensive care.

Last week, major medical centers across the state reported seeing a dramatic change in the proportion of acutely affected people requiring intensive care, presumably because more virulent strains of the virus have become prevalent here. Hospitalizations have continued to tick upward at southern Maine’s four primary hospitals, Maine Med and Mercy in Portland, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.

Maine Med cared for an average of 27.3 confirmed coronavirus inpatients per day this week, up slightly from 27.1 last week and 12.4 two weeks before that. Roughly half of these patients – 14 to 16 each day – were in the 613-bed hospital’s intensive care unit, which was at 92 percent capacity Thursday accounting for all patients, not just those suffering from COVID-19. SMHC’s ICU was at 90 percent occupancy and Mid Coast at 91 percent.

Officials at MaineHealth – the parent entity of all three hospitals – were not available for an interview Thursday.

The situation was markedly better at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which saw the worst pandemic burden of any hospital in Maine around the New Year. For the week ending Thursday, EMMC had 7.3 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients each day, down from 9.3 the week before and 11.6 the week before that.

MaineGeneral in Augusta had 10.9 such inpatients a day, unchanged from the week before, while Mercy’s average count jumped from 3.9 to 6.3 COVID-19 inpatients a day.

The situation at Lewiston’s other hospital, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, remained unclear, as the hospital had not provided an update to its weekly hospitalization figures, which had been growing the previous two weeks.

Hospitalizations can end in three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald compiles inpatient data 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. The paper’s survey includes most of the state’s hospitals, accounting for the nearly all of the statewide hospitalizations reported each week by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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