Maine hospitals are beginning to ease pandemic restrictions and more communities have lifted mask mandates as the latest surge of COVID-19 continues to subside.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Maine declined to 211 on Wednesday, a sharp drop from a peak of 436 hospitalizations on Jan. 13. Hospitals that saw their capacities strained in recent months – first by the delta variant and then by omicron – are beginning to return to more normal operations, or at least are no longer seeking the kinds of state and federal relief provided weeks ago.

Maine Army National Guard deployments that have provided emergency staff support at Maine Med, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook will be winding down by the end February, and the hospital system has no plans to request extensions, said John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent organization of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other Maine hospitals.

About 200 members of the National Guard were deployed across the state in December and January to help at hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. Guard members served as non-clinical support staff so medical workers could care for the crush of COVID patients.

Surgical procedures that had been postponed because hospitals had reached capacity – such as knee and hip replacements – are now being performed again, although even with fewer COVID patients it will take some time to catch up, Porter said. At one point, Maine Medical Center had postponed such procedures for more than 2,000 patients to preserve capacity for COVID cases.

Porter said other patients who had delayed care during the virus surges are also now showing up at hospitals, some with worse problems because they delayed getting care earlier.


As community transmission of the virus declines, mask mandates are being eased in Maine and around the country. On Tuesday, South Portland and Brunswick rescinded indoor mask mandates. Portland, Freeport and Bath also lifted mask mandates this month.

Around the country, some states also are lifting mask mandates in public schools. Maine does not have a statewide mandate for masking in schools, but most districts have been following the state’s recommendation that masks be required.

Some schools in Maine are announcing mask-optional policies, most recently Hermon schools, where masks will be optional starting March 14. RSU 18 in Oakland set a Feb. 28 date to make masks optional and other schools, such as Lewiston, are considering similar policies.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has said the agency will re-evaluate school-masking recommendations next week, after February break.

Maine has also whittled down a backlog of unprocessed positive COVID-19 tests from nearly 60,000 at the peak of the omicron wave to about 6,000 on Wednesday.

The state’s shift to a partially automated process for screening tests, together with a dramatic drop in the number of new tests submitted each day, have allowed CDC staff to catch up on several weeks’ worth of cases that had not made it into the state’s official count.


“Barring a significant increase in the number of positive results reported in the coming days, the backlog will likely be eliminated by the end of this week,” said Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, in an email response to questions.

Maine reported 11 deaths and added 1,519 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the state’s totals to 222,925 cases of COVID-19 and 1,971 deaths.

The state health agency recently automated a portion of the screening process to determine which positive tests represented new cases and which were retests of already infected people. Before the system was partially automated in February, the omicron wave overwhelmed the state agency’s ability to process tests in a timely manner.

The cases reported over the past week do not reflect current pandemic trends. Other indicators, such as hospitalizations, wastewater testing and school outbreaks, have been showing steady declines in coronavirus prevalence.

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