Maine broke records this week for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, but a detailed look at hospital-level data revealed significant geographic variations, correlating with county vaccination rates.

Most hospitals across the state have seen gradual increases in COVID-19 patients, but those serving low-vaccination counties in central and western Maine have experienced record-breaking surges of people requiring hospitalization.

Statewide hospitalizations stood at 273 on Thursday, down slightly from a pandemic record of 280 on Wednesday. Seventy-four were in critical care on Thursday, and 35 on ventilators.

Hospitals that serve low-vaccination counties like Androscoggin, Franklin, Somerset and Oxford – with vaccination rates 17-20 percent lower than the most-vaccinated county, Cumberland – are seeing the largest surges in hospitalizations. The low-vaccination counties have been hardest hit with virus cases over the past several weeks.

For instance, MaineHealth’s Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington set records with an average of 10 inpatients per day during the past week, up from 4.1 the previous week.

Dr. Ross Isacke, chief medical officer for Franklin Memorial, said “we have very high community transmission rates and as a result we see hospitalizations follow a couple weeks later.”

Also setting records were Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta. Hospital officials with CMMC and MaineGeneral said the surges were caused by community spread in their hospital’s service area.

CMMC reported an average of 26 patients per day, up from 22.1 last week. The hospital set its highest single-day number of COVID-19 inpatients at 28 on Monday.

MaineGeneral in Augusta set a record with an average of 23.3 COVID-19 patients during the past week, including a record 24 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Joy McKenna, MaineGeneral spokeswoman, said in an email response to questions that while bed capacity has been an issue, so far the hospital has been able to maintain inpatient services and not had to divert patients to other hospitals.

“We have a surge plan in place, so if the COVID-19 demand continues upward we are prepared to adjust services as needed,” McKenna said. “With the holiday season upon us, we are asking all Maine people to take steps to stay healthy, and in regards to COVID, to please get vaccinated.”

Kennebec County’s vaccination rate is about 15 percentage points lower than Cumberland County’s, where 80.5 percent of the residents are immunized against COVID-19.

Also on Thursday, Maine reported 933 new cases of COVID-19, and 11 additional deaths, a day after the state expanded eligibility to everyone 18 and older to receive booster shots against the deadly virus.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 535.4 on Thursday, compared to 558.3 a week ago and 527.6 a month ago.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has logged 114,065 cases of COVID-19, and 1,254 deaths.

Maine currently has the 22nd-highest cases per capita in the United States, with 37.6 cases per 100,000 population on a seven-day average, compared to the national average of 27 cases per 100,000, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Michigan and Minnesota are currently the hardest-hit states, with cases averaging about 75 cases per 100,000. Florida and Hawaii currently have the lowest cases per capita, at about 7 cases per 100,000 population.

Previously, boosters were recommended only for those 65 and older or those with immunodeficiencies, or for adults who originally received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A federal advisory panel is set to review data Friday on the benefits of expanding booster eligibility, but Gov. Janet Mills said Maine is not waiting. Five other states – Massachusetts, Colorado, California, New Mexico and Arkansas – have opened eligibility as well.

“Maine’s strong vaccination rate is saving lives and reducing hospitalizations and deaths,” Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said in a statement on Wednesday. “But with the continued surge of the delta variant, we must do all we can to protect Maine people from this deadly virus and ease the burden on our health care workers. Now, every Maine adult can get a booster shot to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.”

Cases have started to increase again across the country, stoking fears of another deadly wave as the holiday season approaches. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seven-day case average is 83,671, an 11 percent increase from 75,186 cases on average two weeks ago. Deaths are still averaging more than 1,000 per day across the country and more than 760,000 people have lost their lives to the virus since the pandemic began.

On the vaccination front, 952,425 Maine people have received their final dose of the vaccine, representing 70.9 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents.

With the rollout of vaccination for children 5-11 continuing into its third week, 16.8 percent of elementary-age schoolchildren in Maine have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved in early November by federal regulators. In Cumberland County, where uptake of the vaccine is highest, 29 percent of children 5-11 have received their first dose. In rural counties such as Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties, less than 6 percent of elementary schoolchildren have gotten their first shot.

Many school-based clinics are vaccinating children this week and early next week, trying to get the first dose in arms before Thanksgiving and the second dose in December, before winter break.

Schools are experiencing high numbers of outbreaks as the fall surge continues, with 4,433 cases and 167 outbreaks reported at schools during the past 30 days, as of Thursday. More than 70 cases have been reported in Lewiston and Ellsworth schools during the past month, according to data from the Maine Department of Education. The statewide case numbers are down slightly from last week, but up significantly from Oct. 27, when Maine schools had 2,943 cases and 144 outbreaks.


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.

filed under: