The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals declined slightly Monday, although pressure on the state’s health care system remains at near-record levels heading into the holidays.

On Monday, 380 people were hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19, including 130 in critical care. That’s down from 384 people hospitalized Sunday, with 133 in critical care. The number of patients on ventilators ticked up Monday, from 63 Sunday to 64 Monday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not release case counts on weekends, but will update them Tuesday. The CDC reported an additional 11 deaths Monday following a periodic review of death certificates. The deaths occurred between Nov. 12 and Nov. 27.

Most hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and nearly all those in intensive care are not fully vaccinated, according to hospitals and state health officials. The surge continues to be driven by the delta variant, which arrived in Maine during the summer and has swept through areas of the state with lower vaccination rates.

Maine reported its first cases of the more transmissible omicron variant Friday, with five in Penobscot County. With omicron cases expected to continue to increase, Maine Gov. Janet Mills and doctors have renewed calls for people to protect themselves by wearing masks in indoor public places, and getting vaccinations and boosters. Nationally, omicron now accounts for more than 70 percent of new cases, the federal CDC said Monday.

At Maine Medical Center, a federal team of 15 doctors, nurses and other health care workers is finishing up its two-week deployment Thursday, said Caroline Cornish, a hospital spokeswoman. Cornish said the medical unit the federal team is working on – a non-COVID-19 acute care unit – is being shut down from Thursday until January, when the unit will be filled by a team of traveling health care workers. Maine Med could have requested that the federal workers stay on, but decided not to.

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The Biden administration’s surge team is part of the state’s response to the record-breaking hospitalization numbers over the past few weeks. A request by Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for federal help is pending.

In another effort to help hospitals deal with the surge, the Maine Army National Guard has deployed 38 members to help in non-clinical areas in different capacities across the state, such as assisting at monoclonal antibody clinics. The Guard members will be deployed until at least Jan. 26.

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said the state’s hospitals and the Mills administration are doing everything they can to preserve hospital capacity.

“We know we’re in this for another four to six weeks, so it’s all hands on deck right now,” Michaud said.

Michaud said the association is keeping close tabs on the omicron variant to see how it is affecting hospitalizations in other countries and nationally, such as in New York City, where omicron is already taking hold.

Research suggests the omicron variant may cause less severe illness than delta and other variants, which means cases hospitalizations may not rise even if case numbers do. As more data comes in from countries affected by omicron, such as South Africa, Denmark and Norway, scientists will evaluate the variant’s likely impact in Maine and around the country in the coming weeks and months.

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“In South Africa, we’re thankfully seeing a striking decoupling between new COVID cases and ICU admissions and deaths,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, in a tweet Sunday. “Whether omicron is inherently less virulent, whether this hopeful finding is the result of baseline immunity in infected (people), or a combination of both, is still unclear.”

But the omicron wave is already causing cancellation and postponement of events, such as Radio City Hall performances in New York City and National Football League games, and some universities are returning to remote learning.

While Maine officials have not called for new restrictions, some states and cities are reimposing precautions such as mask mandates in indoor public spaces. Boston requires vaccinations in indoor settings such as restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms. Washington, D.C., enacted an indoor mask mandate.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, sweeping lockdown measures were imposed Monday, including shutting down schools, bars and gyms and enacting a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants.

About 418,000 Maine residents have received their COVID-19 booster dose – about one-third of the state’s 1.3 million population. About 71 percent of Mainers have gotten their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.


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