COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine reached a record 403 patients Monday as omicron continues to spread rapidly through the state.

The number of intensive care patients remained flat, however, indicating that patients infected with omicron are less likely to need critical care.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the more contagious omicron variant now accounts for 70 to 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state, based on the most recent testing by the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. The variant is far more contagious and has driven up hospital patient counts worldwide even though it appears to generally cause less severe symptoms than previous versions of the virus.

Twice as many people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 as at the peak of last winter’s surge, and the number is expected to climb higher as omicron infects a larger swath of the population. Hospitalizations have typically totaled more than 350 per day since early December, when most cases were caused by the delta variant.

While the overall number of patients has been rising swiftly, the number of those in intensive care units has not. The 107 COVID-19 patients in intensive care Monday was the same as Sunday, and only one more than the 106 reported Friday. Fifty-seven patients were on ventilators Monday, four more than Sunday.

The number of ICU patients peaked at 133 on Dec. 19 before starting to decline, and has stayed around 110 patients per day since Jan. 3, even as total hospitalizations have climbed.

With omicron, some hospitals across the country are experiencing a “decoupling”: Cases and hospitalizations are rising, but ICU utilization remains flat because fewer patients are in severe respiratory distress. A study by Houston Methodist health care system in Texas of more than 1,300 patients shows that patients infected with omicron were less likely to need hospitalization, and those that did, on average, had shorter hospital stays than patients infected with delta or earlier variants.

Omicron also is infecting many people who are fully vaccinated and had booster shots, although those people tend to have milder symptoms and are at far lower risk of hospitalization. More than two-thirds of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals are unvaccinated, according to public health officials, and unvaccinated patients account for an even higher percentage of those in critical care.

Case counts are not updated over the weekend, and the next release of case numbers will come Tuesday.

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