Maine health officials reported 13 additional deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, offering another reminder that the public health crisis is still exacting a heavy toll even as pandemic conditions are beginning to ease.

Hospitalizations decreased Tuesday after a brief increase Monday, continuing what has mostly been a downward trend over the past two weeks. Still, the number of COVID-19 patients remains high at 358 and has put a tremendous strain on hospitals and the health care system. Of those currently hospitalized, 87 are in critical care and 34 are on ventilators. Pandemic hospitalizations peaked at 436 on Jan. 13.

The state also reported 1,533 new cases Tuesday for the three-day period from Saturday through Monday, although with a high volume of tests coming in every day and a backlog of 56,000 positive tests to be processed, the state is de-emphasizing daily case counts as a measure of current pandemic conditions.

The number of raw positive test results submitted to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state’s test positivity rate, have both started to decline since peaking a little more than two weeks ago. The positivity rate – which measures the percentage of molecular tests that come back positive – has declined from 21.3 percent two weeks ago, one incubation period, to 14.4 percent on Tuesday. Testing of wastewater in recent days also has shown a decline in transmission.

Still, even as the omicron wave starts to subside, hospitalizations and deaths can sometimes lag.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said on Monday during the Maine Public radio show “Maine Calling” that the pandemic outlook is “better, but still bad.”


“Hospitals are still under tremendous stress and strain right now,” Shah said. “There will be some days and weeks better than others, some degree of ebb and flow.”

As part of federal and state efforts to help hospitals weather the omicron wave, a U.S. Air Force medical “surge team” arrived at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday to provide the hospital with assistance for at least a month. The 20-member team includes doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and medical technicians.

Kris Chaisson, vice president of nursing and patient care services at CMMC, said Tuesday that the help is welcome, and depending on what happens with omicron, they may ask the surge team to stay for longer.


“We will be able to open up more bed capacity to take care of our current patients, ones with COVID as well as ones around the community with heart disease, cancer, orthopedics and trauma patients,” she said.

Air Force Maj. Jonathan Flores, a nurse and the officer in charge of the surge team, said team members will work “alongside the hospital staff helping patients experiencing a wide variety of medical concerns, including COVID-19.”


Maine reached 1,000 COVID-19 deaths on Sept. 21 last year, about 18 months after the first death was recorded. In the roughly 4 ½ months since that grim milestone, another 751 Mainers have died. Older residents are carrying the biggest burden – 87 percent of all deaths have been among those 60 or older.

Across the country, the rate of deaths has risen to its highest point in more than a year. Deaths had been falling from September through November, bottoming out at about 760 deaths per day on average. Since then, other than a few brief dips, the rate has increased steadily. As of this week, the U.S. is averaging more than 2,250 deaths from COVID-19 every day, according to the U.S. CDC. The deadliest stretch of the pandemic was mid-January 2021, when roughly 3,400 people were dying daily from COVID-19.

Since the pandemic started, the U.S. has seen 265 people die for every 100,000 people. Even with a high number of deaths recently, Maine’s rate of 129 per 100,000 is less than half and ranks fourth-lowest, behind Vermont, Hawaii and Utah.

As has been the case in Maine, hospitalizations have been falling across the country since peaking in mid-January. There are 126,699 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on average each day, which is down 13 percent over the past week, according to the U.S. CDC.

Health experts have said they expect hospitalizations and deaths to continue dropping again now that there are signs the omicron wave has peaked. Even though omicron has led to less severe disease for many, especially those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, it has still been devastating.



Roughly 98 percent of all cases in Maine are now omicron, according to testing conducted at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor for the Maine CDC. Omicron quickly became the dominant strain in Maine and the United States, going from 24 percent of samples tested at Jackson Lab in late December to 98 percent by mid-January.

But as quickly as omicron took over, it could be clearing out just as fast based on the results of recent wastewater testing, which provides a more accurate real-time picture of transmission, in Yarmouth and Portland.

In the most recent report, from testing conducted last week, the presence of COVID-19 in Yarmouth’s wastewater declined 36 percent from the week before. In Portland, the Westbrook treatment plant experienced a 24 percent decrease over the previous week, while the East End plant had a more modest decline of 4 percent.

Maine is expanding wastewater testing to at least 23 locations across the state, and more results could be available later this week.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is expected to formally request emergency use authorization for its vaccine for the under-5 age group, according to national news reports. Approval could come soon, with “shots in arms” as early as the end of February.

Overall, 72.6 percent of Mainers are considered fully vaccinated, while 41.5 percent of residents have gotten boosters. Among children ages 5 to 11, who became eligible in November, the statewide vaccination rate is just 36 percent. In Cumberland County, 57 percent of elementary school-age children have gotten their shots, but no other county is above 40 percent, and three counties – Piscataquis, Washington and Somerset – have yet to see 20 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated.

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