The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals rose to 373 Tuesday, edging closer to the pandemic peak as the omicron variant spreads deeper into the state.

Maine hospitals reported 369 COVID-19 patients Monday, 29 more than the day before. While hospitalizations had dropped from a pandemic high of 387 on Dec. 21, hospitals have been preparing for another surge following holiday gatherings and with the arrival of the more contagious omicron variant.

Of the hospitalized patients, 114 were in critical care Tuesday, up one from Monday, and 55 are on ventilators, also one more than Monday.

With the rise of the omicron variant, some parts of the country are changing the way they categorize hospitalized COVID patients. That’s because omicron appears to be more transmissible, but less severe, than the delta variant that fueled the pandemic during the summer and fall.

In New York, which is already weathering a substantial omicron surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that patients hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms will be placed in one category and those who test positive for COVID while already in the hospital for other reasons will be categorized differently. Los Angeles County reported Monday that two-thirds of the COVID-19 patients in hospitals they operate were admitted for another reason, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said Maine has always reported hospitalized patients with COVID-19 the same, regardless of whether they were initially admitted for the disease, and has “no immediate plans to change that reporting metric.”

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“We would consider changes based on future input from Maine hospitals and the U.S. CDC,” Long said.

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said most patients who have tested positive for COVID have arrived at a hospital needing treatment for the disease, so the distinction hasn’t been that important. But that could change if more patients test positive after being admitted for something else.

“In the world of omicron it might matter. In the world of delta, it doesn’t matter that much,” Michaud said.

Michaud said he doesn’t want statistics to inflate the severity of what’s happening in Maine hospitals, although having many patients infected by omicron would still strain the facilities. Even if the latest variant tends to be less severe, hospitalized COVID patients still take up resources.

In the United Kingdom, which was hit with an omicron surge earlier than the U.S., hospitalization data shows the variant is usually less severe, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, said in a tweet Tuesday.

“While rising cases have led to (a) smaller but still sharp relative increase in hospitalizations and pressure on hospitals; (the) number of patients on ventilators has barely risen and ICU capacity remains stable,” Gottlieb wrote.

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Maine also reported 25 additional deaths and 1,481 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the first case count update since Friday.

The extended pause in new case counts released by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was the result of the New Year’s Day holiday. The public health agency also does not report cases over the weekend.

In addition, the CDC has been unable to keep up with a flood of positive test reports on a daily basis, causing a backlog in reporting cases. While 1,481 cases over four days appears lower than the average daily case count in recent weeks, the report does not include all positive cases detected since Friday. The state’s data also does not include cases not reported to the state, such as those confirmed with at-home tests.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 148,217 cases of COVID-19, and 1,556 deaths.

Maine is also seeing more cases caused by the omicron variant. Omicron accounted for 8.75 percent of positive COVID-19 cases screened during the week of Dec. 19-25, according to a report released Monday by the Maine CDC. That’s up from a revised estimate of 5.5 percent the week before.

Those numbers are expected to change as more samples are tested, but indicates omicron will soon be the dominant driver of infections in Maine, said Ryan Tewhey, who leads a team of researchers at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor that monitors coronavirus strains in the state.

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“The omicron growth curves are exponential, so they appear slow for the first few weeks and then will grow very quickly,” Tewhey said Monday. “We’re at that point in the curve where things are going to increase very quickly.”

John Porter, spokesman for the MaineHealth network, which operates NorDx laboratories, said 45 positive cases sequenced by the lab Tuesday did not detect the presence of delta. The samples will be sent to the state for further testing for omicron. NorDx has the ability to test for the delta variant, but not for omicron, so if delta’s presence is not detected, samples are sent to the state.

As demand for vaccination increases, immunization clinics are popping up.

MaineHealth is opening a vaccination clinic this week at its offices 110 Free St., Portland. The clinic is by appointment only, with hours from noon-6 p.m. Wednesday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday. First and second dose appointments are available to anyone 5 and older, and booster shots are available for those 16 and older. The clinic has the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines.

To schedule an appointment, go to vaccine.mainehealth.org.

Also, Northern Light Health has reopened its walk-in vaccination clinic at the former Pier One store at the Maine Mall in South Portland. Walk-ins can stop by for a vaccine from 1-7 p.m. on Thursday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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