COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen below 300 patients statewide for the first time since before Thanksgiving, another promising sign that the recent surge in virus transmission is waning.

In addition, the number of positive test results received by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention each day has been nearly cut in half just in the last week, and the seven-day daily average now is about one-third what it was at its peak in mid-January.

According to the CDC, 294 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals Friday, down 33 percent from a peak of 436 set on Jan. 13. Of those hospitalized, 64 are in critical care – the lowest total since Oct. 13 – and 31 are on ventilators.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the trends demonstrate progress.

“Those numbers are high, but it’s important to remember where we’ve been,” he said in a social media post Friday.

Maine health officials also reported two more COVID-19 deaths Friday, bringing the pandemic total to 1,824. The death toll has not let up even as other metrics continue to show the omicron surge is receding in Maine and nationwide.

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Daily case counts in Maine no longer provide an accurate representation of current transmission because of a massive backlog of positive tests and because of the increasing volume of home tests. However, the number of raw positive test results coming into the CDC each day has been steadily dropping since mid-January.

Over the most recent seven-day period, the Maine CDC received an average of 760 positive tests each day. That’s down 44 percent from 1,348 positives on average during the previous seven-day period. From Jan. 14-20, the peak of the omicron surge here, the CDC averaged 2,275 positive tests every day and went over 3,000 multiple times.

For the first time since students returned from the holiday break, the number of COVID-19 cases in Maine schools also is coming down. According to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Education, there have been 11,591 cases in schools over the last 30 days. That’s down from 12,967 the previous week. Cases had been rising in schools since students came back on Jan. 3.

The department reported 38 schools with outbreaks, which means at least 15 percent of staff and students have been out sick. That’s down from 44 a week earlier.

Transmission appears to be easing on college campuses as well.

Across the University of Maine System, there were 65 active cases, down from a high of 275 three weeks earlier. At Bates College in Lewiston, there have been 19 cases reported over the last seven days, compared to 60 in the previous seven-day period. At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, there have been just 18 cases among students and staff over the last week.

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Hospitalizations are also down 29 percent nationally over the last two weeks, to a seven-day average of 99,535, according to the U.S. CDC. It’s the first time hospitalizations have been under 100,000 in more than a month, but is still higher than at any point during the delta surge last fall.

The number of deaths reported each day, however, has yet to decline significantly. More than 2,300 Americans are still dying each day with COVID-19 and more than 910,000 have died during the pandemic.

Despite the still-high number of deaths and people requiring treatment at hospitals, there are plenty of signs that transmission is declining rapidly, including from wastewater testing in Maine, which is increasingly being used to track real-time trends.

Many states are using the positive trends to announce plans to loosen some restrictions, particularly indoor mask mandates and universal masking in schools.

Maine health and education officials met Thursday with superintendents from across the state to discuss what changes, if any, might be made here, but nothing was announced after that meeting. The Maine CDC has strongly recommended masking in schools but has left it to local school districts to decide whether to impose them. Similarly, there hasn’t been a statewide mask mandate since last spring, but some communities – mostly in southern Maine – have adopted their own. The city of Portland voted this week to end its indoor mask mandate.

As for vaccinations, they have slowed considerably since the weeks leading up to the holiday season, when the state was routinely averaging more than 10,000 shots per day. Over the last seven days, about 1,200 shots have been administered on average.

Overall, 981,329 residents have gotten two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version. That’s 73 percent of the population. Of those, 568,359 have gotten boosters, which represents 42 percent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was supposed to meet next week to discuss a request to approve Pfizer’s low-dose vaccine series for children aged 6 months to 5 years. That possibly would have paved the way for full approval this month. However, Pfizer announced Friday that it was delaying its request until April to await more data on the efficacy of a third dose.

If the data for children 5-11 is any indication, demand for vaccines among parents of younger children might not be high. Since vaccines were approved in November for 5- to 11-year-olds, 37.4 percent have gotten both shots in Maine, according to the CDC. However, much of that is driven by Cumberland County, which has a rate of 59.7 percent. The next closest county, Lincoln, is at 41.4 percent and three counties – Somerset, Piscataquis and Washington – have yet to reach 20 percent.


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