The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals climbed again Monday as Gov. Janet Mills announced the deployment of 38 Maine National Guard members to 10 health care centers across the state to help increase capacity.

In an announcement late Monday, Mills’ office said 15 guard members will be sent to Saint Joseph’s Manor in Portland and another 12 will go to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to work in non-clinical support roles and free up front-line medical staff to work with patients. This will allow Saint Joseph’s Manor to open 26 additional skilled nursing beds and will create 16 “swing” beds at CMMC, which will in turn allow hospitals to safely discharge more individuals to alleviate a bottleneck that has been occurring because of the high number of COVID-19 patients.

Eleven additional guard members will be scattered among six other facilities: Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bangor, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland and Northern Light Health in Waterville. These members will help clinical staff administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and, hopefully, keep Maine people out of critical care.

“Our members are ready to support Maine’s heroic health care workers and help the state through this challenging surge of COVID-19,” Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s adjutant general, said in a statement.

The deployments are scheduled through Jan. 26. The Mills’ administration said last week that it was prepared to activate as many as 75 guard members, but with the possible arrival of federal teams, only 38 were deployed this week.

The requirement that health care workers be fully vaccinated applies to the National Guard members who have been deployed, the governor’s office said.

Maine’s biggest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland, also is getting support from a federal “surge response team” in response to a request Mills made to the Biden administration. A 15-member team of medical professionals from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System arrived Saturday to provide direct patient care for the next two weeks in a new non-COVID, acute care unit, allowing Maine Medical Center to provide 11 additional beds for COVID patients. CMMC has applied for similar assistance, and a spokesperson for EMMC said that might be an option there as well.

“We will continue to work closely with our health care and federal partners to monitor the capacity of our system and to take action when and where it is needed in order to support Maine people,” Mills said in a statement. “Ultimately, the best and most effective way to relieve the burden on our heroic health care workers is to heed their advice: get vaccinated.”

According to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 378 people in the hospital Monday with COVID-19, an increase of nine from Sunday and one fewer than the record of 379 set last week. It was the eighth consecutive day of at least 350 individuals hospitalized. Of those, 106 are in critical care – down from a pandemic high of 122 four days ago – and 58 are on ventilators.

At many hospitals, critical care units and emergency departments are at capacity and non-critical medical procedures have been postponed. Maine Med and Northern Light Mercy in Portland have both reduced visitation hours in recent days.

Smaller hospitals are feeling the strain, too. At Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, all 11 critical care beds, as well as all 23 emergency room beds, were full as of Friday. And at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, there has been a wait just to get into the emergency room to be evaluated.

As many as two-thirds of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated and an even higher percentage of those in critical care have not had their vaccines.

Of the 89 people currently hospitalized in Northern Light Health’s system, 74 are unvaccinated, or 83 percent. Of the 35 in critical care, 31, or 89 percent, are unvaccinated. Within the MaineHealth system, 75 of 119 COVID-19 patients (66 percent) and 27 of 38 critical care patients (71 percent) are unvaccinated. Those percentages are even more stark when considering the pool of fully vaccinated people in Maine is more than twice as large as the pool of unvaccinated.

MaineHealth spokesman John Porter said every day feels like Groundhog Day.

“Not much has changed for us. It’s still extraordinarily busy,” he said.

The CDC does not update new COVID-19 case data on Mondays, so Tuesday’s total will reflect cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday as well as any cases that have not be processed in the days before because of a flood of positive test results submitted to the state. Virus transmission has never been higher in Maine – the seven-day case average reached a pandemic high of 982 on Saturday –and health officials are bracing for things to get even worse.

Maine has yet to see a confirmed case of the omicron variant, but health officials have said it’s only a matter of time. Nearby New Hampshire and New Brunswick, Canada, both reported cases on Monday.

Cases have started to climb again across the U.S. as well, to their highest point in two and a half months, after a steady drop in transmission during most of September and October. According to the U.S. CDC, the seven-day case average is 118,575, an increase of 56 percent from 76,246 cases on average this time last month.

The recent surge is especially acute in the Northeast. Five of the top seven states for cases per capita over the last seven days are all in New England, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maine ranks fourth in the country with 507 new infections per 100,000 people in the past seven days, double the national average of 250 cases per 100,000 people.

Hospitalizations also have started to rise in much of the rest of the country. The national seven-day average of 55,503 is up 38 percent over the last month.

Vaccinations, meanwhile, also have accelerated in recent weeks in Maine, driven largely by individuals seeking boosters. From Monday through Friday last week, the state averaged more than 10,000 doses administered per day. Overall, Maine has administered 940,080 final doses, which represents 69.9 percent of all residents, and 372,813 booster shots, covering 27.7 percent of Mainers.

Among  5- to 11-year-olds, who became eligible in early November, a total of 31,922, or 33 percent, have gotten first doses and 19,420, or 20 percent, are fully vaccinated, although those numbers are inflated by a high rate of vaccination among children in Cumberland County. Half of Maine’s 16 counties have yet to reach 25 percent for first doses among elementary school-age children.

In response to increasing demand for vaccines, several walk-in clinics have opened. The Maine CDC will resume a pop-up clinic at the Augusta Armory this week, and Northern Light will reopen a clinic at the former Pier 1 store at the Maine Mall in South Portland from Tuesday through Saturday this week. The site will run from 1-7 p.m. from Tuesday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday.

“Our situation remains the same, and getting people either newly vaccinated or boostered before the Christmas holiday remains our top priority (as well as managing capacity),” Northern Light spokeswoman Karen Cashman said.

Central Maine Healthcare also continues to operate a walk-in clinic at the Auburn Mall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday-Friday.

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