Hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose sharply in Maine this week and on Thursday hit the highest level since June 4, with 67 inpatients confirmed with the disease statewide.

Thursday’s count was more than twice the levels seen at Maine hospitals in the second half of June and the first half of July, before the delta variant began driving unvaccinated people to emergency rooms.

The sharpest increase has been at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the state’s second largest hospital, which serves as the major treatment center for the northern and eastern half of the state. EMMC – which had no COVID-19 inpatients at all for several days in late July – went from treating two inpatients on July 30 to seven on Monday and 13 by Thursday morning.

“We know the delta variant is becoming the dominant strain in Maine and that it is more transmissible,” said Dr. James Jarvis, physician incident commander for EMMC’s parent entity, Northern Light Health. “It’s clear with people who are unvaccinated that we are seeing significant spread across the state of Maine and people with severe cases of the disease.”

EMMC was treating an average of 8.8 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, up sharply from 3.7 last week. It is still a far cry from the midwinter peak of the pandemic here, when EMMC was caring for an average of 51.9 inpatients each day for a week, the heaviest burden of any hospital in the state during the pandemic.

The state’s other major hospitals did not see a sharp rise, however. Maine Medical Center in Portland, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, and MaineGeneral in Augusta all had relatively flat COVID-19 inpatient counts this week, though all were elevated from two weeks ago.

At MaineMed – which has almost twice as many beds as EMMC – doctors were treating an average of 10.3 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week ending Thursday, compared to 9.4 a day last week. Most of those patients were in intensive care, as has been the case since the delta variant began making its presence felt here earlier this summer.

“We’re seeing a little jump but nothing dramatic and nothing inconsistent with the overall numbers of cases we’ve been seeing,” John Porter, spokesman for MaineMed’s parent entity, MaineHealth, said Thursday.

At MaineGeneral the inpatient average actually went down slightly from 3.7 per day last week to 3.3 this week. At Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, the daily average COVID-19 inpatient count went from 4.4 last week to five for the six days ending Wednesday.

A number of smaller hospitals that hadn’t admitted a COVID-19 patient in months simultaneously admitted one or more from Monday to Wednesday, including Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor Hospital. Waldo General in Belfast – serving what is currently the worst affected county in the state – started the week with no inpatients and ended with three.

“This is becoming a disease of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Jarvis noted. “The breakthrough cases are still a very small percentage of overall cases of COVID-19 nationally, and certainly of deaths. Vaccines are working, and working better than we would have expected.”

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 Aug. 12. 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.

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