Maine hospitalizations from COVID-19 crept back up on Friday as state officials also reported 23 additional deaths attributable to the virus, bringing the pandemic total to 1,800.

In the last four days alone, the state has added 62 deaths, although some of those occurred weeks earlier and were found as a result of periodic reviews of death certificates. But it’s a reminder that although there are signs the omicron variant wave has peaked and is coming down, the state is still dealing with a high level of severe illness that is contributing to many deaths.

As of Friday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 355 COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals, an increase of nine from the previous day but still well below the peak set in mid-January. Of those currently hospitalized, 82 are in critical care, an increase of two since Thursday, and 36 are on ventilators, an increase of five.

Before Friday’s increase, the totals for critical care patients and patients on ventilators had fallen to their lowest points since mid-November.

Health officials also reported 1,414 new cases Friday, although daily reported cases – which have been hovering between 1,200 and 1,500 for the last month – no longer represent an accurate picture of current transmission because the state is still trying to clear a backlog of 58,000 positive tests that built up last month. Additionally, an increasing number of people are using at-home tests, and most of those results are not reported to state officials.

Other metrics, however, suggest Maine may be on the downward side of the omicron variant surge. The number of raw positive test results that have come into the Maine CDC are averaging about 1,400 per day, down from roughly 2,500 per day two weeks ago. The state’s positivity rate – the percentage of all tests that come back positive – also has declined from more than 21 percent last week to around 13 percent this week.


Additionally, the state has been getting more and more data from wastewater systems across the state – including Brunswick, Belfast, Bangor, Calais, Presque Isle and Lewiston/Auburn – and all are showing steep declines in transmission, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a social media post Friday.

A masked pedestrian walks past a bus stop shelter on Congress St. in Portland Wednesday, February 2, 2022. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

One area where cases in Maine are still rising is in schools. According to data updated Thursday by the Maine Department of Education, there have been 12,967 cases in K-12 schools over the last 30 days, and 44 schools have experienced outbreaks, which means at least 15 percent of staff and students have been out sick at one time. That’s an increase from 11,526 cases and 37 outbreaks reported a week earlier.

Overall transmission has been falling across the country as well, which had led to a decrease in hospitalizations. According to the U.S. CDC, there were 124,134 people hospitalized on average each day this week, a decrease of 15 percent from two weeks ago. Some states, however, still are seeing increases, especially in the south.

Deaths from COVID-19, however, have yet to start declining. In fact, the current average of about 2,400 deaths per day is the highest in a year. In all, 892,442 people have died in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Of Maine’s deaths, 75 percent have come since Jan. 1, 2021, after vaccines started to become available, and there is a strong correlation between high death rates and low vaccination rates. Study after study has shown that people who are fully vaccinated, and now those who have gotten booster shots, are at an exponentially lower risk of hospitalization and death.



Since Jan. 1, the counties with the most deaths per capita – Penobscot, Oxford and Piscataquis – are in the bottom half for vaccination rates. Conversely, counties with the fewest deaths per capita – Knox, Lincoln and Cumberland – are the most highly vaccinated.

In Penobscot County, for example, 15.6 people have died for every 10,000 residents, and its vaccination rate of 66 percent is well below the state average of 73 percent. In Cumberland County, just 6.5 people per 10,000 have died since Jan. 1, 2021. The county’s vaccination rate is 83.4 percent, by far the state’s highest.

If Cumberland County, the state’s most populated county, had a rate of death as high as Penobscot, 268 more people would have died.

Older Mainers are those most likely to have died of COVID-19. Of the 1,800 deaths, 1,274 of the dead have been 70 or older (71 percent). Just 74 deaths, or 4 percent, have been individuals younger than 40.

Across the U.S., the death rate has been 27 per 10,000 people throughout the pandemic. Maine’s rate of 13 deaths per 10,000 people is less than half. Only Vermont, Hawaii and Utah have lower rates.

Mississippi’s rate of 37 deaths per 10,000 is the highest. Mississippi also has the third lowest vaccination rate of any state, just over 50 percent. Alabama, which has the second lowest vaccination rate, has the fourth highest death rate.


If Maine had the same death rate as Mississippi, it would have more than 5,000 COVID-19 fatalities.

The differences in death rates by state are even more stark since Jan. 1, 2021. Eight of the 10 states with the most deaths per capita since then are southern states, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and all have vaccination rates far below the national average.

Vaccinations, meanwhile, have fallen off in Maine after increased demand before the holidays, but the state is still administering more than 2,000 shots every day, many of them boosters. Overall, 978,479 individuals are fully vaccinated, or 72.8 percent of the population, and 562,299 people, or 41.8 percent, have gotten boosters. Both rates are among the highest of any state.

Later this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could authorize Pfizer’s extra low-dose vaccine for children between 6 months and 5 years, the only age group not yet eligible.

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