The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine continues to decline, the state said Saturday even as it announced 50 previously unreported deaths from the infectious disease in January.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said 231 patients were hospitalized with the virus statewide on Saturday, down from 245 on Friday.

Of the 231 hospitalized, 63 were in critical care and 23 on ventilators, according to the public health agency.

Those numbers represent a dramatic drop compared to just last month. On Jan. 13 there were 436 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a pandemic high.

Also on Saturday, Maine added 4,011 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the pandemic total as health officials work to clear a backlog of positive tests submitted in recent weeks. Maine is using a new partially automated system to sort through the backlog. Before the process was automated, staff members at the Maine CDC were overwhelmed with cases during the omicron wave and could not process the test results quickly enough to prevent the backlog.

Deaths, hospitalizations and wastewater screening data remain the best metrics to determine the impact of COVID-19, the state has said. Also, the Maine CDC received 244 positive cases on Thursday, a far cry from Jan. 12, when it received 3,400 positive tests.

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But the coronavirus death toll in Maine continues to rise.

The Maine CDC reported an additional 50 deaths as part of a vital records review, Robert Long, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Saturday. “These deaths occurred between Jan. 9, 2022, and Jan. 22, 2022,” Long said in a press release. “Maine CDC expresses condolences to their loved ones and communities.”

Since the pandemic began, 1,960 people have died from COVID-19 in the state, according to the Maine CDC.

A number of states and cities have dropped indoor, public mask mandates. Portland, Bath and Freeport ended their indoor, public mask mandates, while other municipalities, including Brunswick and South Portland, are reviewing theirs.

On his weekly briefing Wednesday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the steady decrease in hospitalizations, coupled with other metrics that show transmission is waning, have prompted state health officials to consider updating masking recommendations for public schools. But, he cautioned, “We’re not there yet.”

“The trends are encouraging and favorable, but what we’re looking for now is continued stability. The bullet train of omicron is slowing down, but it’s not time to let off the brakes,” Shah said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend the wearing of masks in indoor, public spaces since most of the country carries high transmission rates. U.S. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this week updated recommendations on masking are likely coming soon, but she didn’t set a timeline. National news reports suggested the new guidelines would be announced next week.

Dr. Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer with MaineHealth, said the omicron surge is simmering, and nationally hospitals are working hard to catch up with the enormous backlog of patients needing surgery and with continuing increases in patients with underlying chronic illnesses.

With the long pandemic, Mills recommends people “do what brings you joy, including gathering with loved ones if you are fully vaccinated and boosted,” she said on her Facebook page. Mills said she’ll continue to wear a mask in public spaces, as well as when indoors with people not in her household since transmission rates are high.

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