The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals dropped on Sunday to 327 people, a decline of 60 patients from the peak last Tuesday.

Of those patients, 115 were in intensive care and 60 needed ventilators to help them breathe. Both numbers are also below the peak experienced last week.

The decline in hospitalizations over the past five days provides a small measure of relief to hospitals across the state that have been pushed to their limits in recent weeks.

However, the number of patients remains well above anything Maine experienced during previous waves of the pandemic. And state health officials and hospitals are bracing for another surge in illnesses expected to result from holiday gatherings and the spread of the new highly contagious omicron variant.

Maine has officially confirmed only a small number of cases from omicron, but it is expected to become the dominant driver of the disease within weeks. Some studies indicate the symptoms of infections caused by omicron are less severe, but it is so much more contagious that it could send more people to hospitals for care, health officials warn.

Experts have said vaccinations, and especially booster shots, provide protection against severe illness from the omicron variant, as well as from the delta variant that has driven the current surge of cases.


About two thirds of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been unvaccinated, according to hospital data. More than 80 percent of the people in critical care have not been fully vaccinated.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention did not provide updated hospital numbers Saturday. On Friday, it said 339 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, down from the 355 people hospitalized Thursday.

Despite the dip in recent days, Maine hospitals have been caring for more than 300 patients since November 24. That’s a far higher burden than anything experienced last winter, when the number of hospital patients peaked at just over 200.

Maine hospitals have taken a series of steps since last month to expand capacity to care for those patients and to support frontline staff.

Thousands of people in need of in-patient procedures such as joint replacement or back surgeries have been forced to wait for weeks because some hospitals postponed less urgent procedures to preserve capacity for COVID patients.

The state has activated a network of volunteers such as retired nurses and physicians to support hospital staffs. Smaller hospitals also have been admitting COVID patients in recent weeks to provide relief for the larger regional facilities.

Gov. Janet Mills activated members of the Maine Army National Guard to provide non-clinical support to hospitals. And the federal government sent a surge response team of physicians, nurses and other specialists to help Maine Medical Center in Portland for the past two weeks.

Last week, President Biden announced Maine would receive more help in the form of ambulance teams contracted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Eight teams, each with two emergency medical responders and an ambulance, are expected to arrive in Maine on Tuesday and report to hospitals around the state to help transport patients between hospitals or to other facilities, such as nursing homes. The support is expected to help the hospitals create more capacity to take in additional COVID patients.

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