COVID-19 hospitalizations remained at a near-record level Monday, even as more evidence suggests the omicron wave is beginning to subside in Maine.

On Monday, Maine reported 427 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 429 on Saturday, the latest day data was released. The number of critical care patients decreased from 101 on Saturday to 100 on Monday.

While patients falling ill with the omicron variant have flooded hospitals in recent weeks, the number of intensive care patients has remained flat or declined slightly, tracking with the experience in other omicron-hit states and countries. The vast majority of patients in intensive care units, and most other hospitalized patients, are unvaccinated, according to health officials.

In one sign that the omicron wave may be ebbing, the number of positive tests submitted on regular weekdays to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention declined last week after a sharp rise earlier this month.

The average number of positive tests dropped from 3,186 per day Jan. 10-14 to an average of 2,787 per day Jan. 17-21. The number of positive tests reflects changes in the rate of community spread, but not all tests will be confirmed as new cases.

Meanwhile, the town of Yarmouth released new wastewater data over the weekend showing another 40 percent decline in the presence of the virus from testing conducted on Jan. 17-18. That followed a 50 percent decline the previous week. The Portland Water District also has experienced steep declines of more than 50 percent in COVID-19 testing at its Westbrook and East End wastewater treatment plants.


“This week’s further decline suggests that viral levels in Yarmouth’s wastewater may have peaked with the January 3-4 sample. Lower values in the coming weeks would confirm this,” the Yarmouth wastewater report said.

The wastewater testing reflects local conditions and results do not mean omicron infections are falling in every part of the state. The Maine CDC is expanding wastewater testing for COVID-19 to about 20 additional sites in the coming weeks, as wastewater data is near real-time and accurate. In comparison, case counts have become a less reliable measure of current trends, as a lag in reporting cases, lack of access to testing and more people using at-home tests are skewing the results.

“Wastewater data does not lie,” said Sheree Pagsuyoin, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Pathogen Research & Training.

Each test costs about $350. The federal government will be picking up the cost of the $400,000 program at about 20 treatment plants across the state, once it starts up in a few weeks.

“It’s a very good predictor of cases occurring in community,” Pagsuyoin said.

Signs that the omicron wave may have peaked in Maine are consistent with falling infection rates elsewhere in the Northeast, as well as in other parts of the world. While the delta variant surge that started in the summer was more gradual and prolonged, the more contagious omicron strain has caused a much more rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations, followed by a sharp decline in infection rates.


On the hospitalization front, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, the parent organization of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other Maine hospitals, said that the number of COVID-19 patients at hospitals is still near record highs, but the average severity of patients is reduced.

“The people who are hospitalized in general they are not as sick as they were before. Proportionally, fewer of them are ending up in the (intensive care unit),” Mills said, comparing the winter omicron wave with the fall delta surge and previous variants.

While hospital in-patients numbers continue to stay high, Mills said phones are “ringing off the hook” with people who are sick but don’t need hospital care.

“The demand has been on the outpatient side,” Mills said. “There’s a lot more people sick with omicron than with delta, but the vast majority of them are not needing to be hospitalized. People are calling, wanting to get tested, treated and advice on what to do.”

Mills said the best actions people can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated if they haven’t already, get a booster shot if they haven’t yet received a booster and upgrade masks from cloth to surgical masks or higher-grade masks. If you still use a cloth mask, Mills advises wearing two layers.

About 72 percent of Maine people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 42 percent have gotten their booster shot.

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