Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are rising again in Maine as state health officials reported 217 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but no additional deaths.

Case numbers are increasing steadily again after an early-summer lull that raised hopes that the state and much of the nation were emerging from the pandemic. Over the past seven days, Maine has averaged 149 new cases per day compared to an average of just 18 cases for the week ending July 7, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The steady rise in case numbers has begun to result in more hospitalizations, which typically lag case increases by two to three weeks.

On Wednesday, there were 60 inpatients with COVID-19 in Maine hospitals – up from 47 two days earlier and a low of 23 on July 5 – with 28 people in critical care beds. While that is still well below Maine’s peak of more than 200 COVID-related hospitalizations last winter, the last time 60 or more people were hospitalized with the disease was June 6.

Northern Light Health, which operates a network of hospitals stretching from Portland to Presque Isle, reported 17 COVID inpatients and one patient within the network’s home care and hospice program Wednesday. There were six total hospitalizations in Northern Light facilities last week.

Although COVID-19 hospitalization data for the network’s hospitals wasn’t immediately available Wednesday afternoon, the hospitals are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 patients, said John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other hospitals in Maine.

“We have seen a slight surge over the past couple of days, in line with what we were expecting, given the increase in cases that we’ve seen,” Porter said.

To date, the Maine CDC has reported 71,883 total confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 as well as 901 deaths linked to the viral disease. The vast majority of those cases and deaths occurred between fall 2020 and last spring, before vaccines became widely available in the U.S. Maine continues to have one of the nation’s lowest infection and death rates.

But this latest spike in cases – likely driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus – is causing concern because roughly 39 percent of the state’s population of 1.3 million remains unvaccinated. About 160,000 of those unvaccinated individuals are children under age 12 who are still too young for shots under the current federal authorizations.

Maine is also seeing an uptick in outbreaks, including at hospitals and assisted living or long-term care facilities. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Mills said the administration is “seriously considering” requiring all health care workers in the state to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Maine’s two largest health care providers, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health, have announced plans to require all staff to be vaccinated, as has Millinocket Regional Hospital.

Roughly 69 percent of Maine residents age 12 or over have received the full regimen of doses necessary to be considered fully vaccinated against the disease. Maine has consistently had the third-highest full vaccination rate in the nation behind Vermont and Massachusetts, although public health officials caution the rate needs to be significantly higher to further stem the spread of the virus.

There had been 712 so-called “breakthrough” infections of fully vaccinated individuals, including 32 resulting in hospitalization and 14 deaths, based on the latest data released by the Maine CDC last week. In comparison, the agency has reported 36,785 cases of COVID-19, 816 hospitalizations and 234 deaths since the first date that Mainers could have been fully vaccinated against the disease. Research shows that inoculated people are much less likely to develop a severe enough case to require hospitalization or die of the disease.

According to case rate metrics used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks are recommended in indoor public settings for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in 14 of Maine’s 16 counties. The recommendation, which has been embraced by the Maine CDC, is based on a community transmission rate of at least 50 cases for every 100,000 residents in those counties.

Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Franklin, Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Washington and York counties all have substantial levels of transmission, based on Maine CDC case data updated Wednesday. Waldo County was the only location with high levels of community transmission.

Kennebec and Sagadahoc counties were experiencing moderate transmission rates.

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