Hospitalizations from COVID-19 remain elevated across the state and could rise higher still based on the trajectory of infections from the more contagious and potentially more dangerous delta variant.

There were 136 people admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 across Maine as of Monday morning. While that is down from 143 on Friday and well below the roughly 200 hospitalizations reported on several days in January, the 69 people being treated in intensive care units on Monday was just shy of the peak of 71 critical care patients seen in January and one day last week.

New case figures were not available Monday because the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention only updates the data Tuesday through Saturday. But the 415 new cases reported Saturday was the highest single-day total since May 3, and the seven-day average of 246 daily cases was 10 times higher than on July 1.

Underscoring concerns about growing pressure on Maine’s hospital system, the chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, said the delta variant is “pushing our hospitals to the limit.”

Mills wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that MaineHealth’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland, has been holding up to 50 patients per day in the emergency department as they waited for beds elsewhere. Mills said some emergency rooms at “large hospitals in Maine” have been forced to close to ambulances or new patients several times during the past two weeks because of the crunch.

Mills, a former director of the Maine CDC and the sister of Gov. Janet Mills, suggested that some rural hospitals have struggled to find space at larger facilities for severely ill patients who need more intensive, specialty care.

“As I monitor the situation globally and around the country, I am very apprehensive,” Mills wrote on her Facebook page during the latest of her “Not-So-Brief COVID-19 Update” posts. “Surges caused by the Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus are not letting up. This means we may be several weeks away from reaching a peak. Yet our hospitals are already full.”

Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, said in an interview that 90 percent of the ICU beds across Northern Light’s hospital network were occupied with either COVID or non-COVID patients as of Monday. Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor had 31 COVID hospitalizations Monday, with 17 in the ICU, and even Northern Light AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle had three patients.

“That is pretty high for a small hospital,” Jarvis said.

Roughly 90 percent of the hospital network’s ICU patients were unvaccinated and most were hailing from more rural regions, Jarvis said. Northern Light has not yet had to reschedule many necessary but “non-urgent procedures” but late last week EMMC had as many as 10 patients in the emergency department who were waiting for beds elsewhere.

“Looking at our positivity rate, it is higher than it was on Friday,” Jarvis said. “And with that said … that has always been a one- to two-week predictor of the future. So I do think we will continue to see more patients and more people needing hospitalization.”

Compounding the space crunch, there are fewer beds available at rehabilitation, acute care or long-term care facilities to take ICU patients once they no longer require critical care. The pandemic has also exacerbated long-standing staffing shortages at many health care facilities as workers either contract COVID or are required to quarantine after potential exposure.

This latest nationwide surge caused by the delta variant comes at a time when Maine hospitals were already bustling with all of the traumas, other illnesses and post-surgical patients that come during the busy summer season.

At MaineGeneral hospital in Augusta, all 16 critical care beds were occupied Monday, only two of which were COVID patients. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston reported 10 COVID hospitalizations Sunday – seven of which were in the ICU – compared to a total of six patients last Monday.

“As the health leaders said on Thursday, there are many factors playing into current concerns about capacity,” MaineGeneral spokeswoman Joy McKenna said in a statement. “COVID-19 is one, but there’s also the added stress of a lack of behavioral health beds overall in the state, as well as an inability in other care settings like long-term care to take patients, all of which means more patients competing for bed space in the Emergency Department and in inpatient units.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, lamented what he described as a “cognitive dissonance” in Maine as people hear both good and bad news regarding COVID-19.

On the positive side, Shah noted, the rate of new vaccination shots has increased more than 50 percent during the past two weeks. During the most recent seven-day period, 2,645 doses of vaccine were administered daily.

As of Monday, 71.2 percent of all eligible Mainers and 62.7 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents had received the full regimen of doses needed for full vaccination against COVID-19. Maine currently ranks behind only Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts in terms of the percentage of the population that is fully inoculated against COVID-19.

Working with hospitals, Maine CDC was also able to open up additional ICU beds – with 69 available Monday – after dipping to just 34 Thursday.

“On the concerning front, cases are going up, the positivity rate is going up and hospitalizations are going up,” Shah said on the “Maine Calling” program on Maine Public radio. “Those three things, in total, are concerning.”

Shah also stressed that while the number of so-called “breakthrough cases” is rising in Maine, fully vaccinated individuals are much less likely to land in the hospital or die from COVID-19 than unvaccinated individuals. The Maine CDC had reported 1,818 breakthrough cases as of last week, which represents 5 percent of the roughly 40,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Maine since January.

“And then the other fork of the pandemic is the unvaccinated,” Shah said. “Because of the delta variant, their risk of getting the disease, getting in the hospital and indeed even landing in the ICU continues to go up.”


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