The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Maine dropped again Thursday, extending a two-month decline from the January peak of the omicron wave.

Despite positive signs statewide, however, northern and eastern Maine are still seeing relatively high virus transmission.

Federal guidelines updated Thursday classified both Aroostook and Washington counties as high risk, meaning caseloads could strain hospital capacity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing when indoors in those counties. Last week, only Aroostook County was considered high risk.

Piscataquis, Penobscot and Hancock counties are now classified as medium risk. Residents of those counties are advised to wear masks indoors if they are at high-risk of illness.

The 11 remaining counties are now considered low risk: Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Oxford, Franklin, Lincoln, Somerset, Waldo and Knox. The U.S. CDC recommends residents of low-risk counties get vaccinated and get tested if they feel sick.

Maine hospitals had a total of 111 inpatients Thursday, down from 115 Wednesday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 22 patients in intensive care and seven patients on respirators.

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The Maine CDC also reported 284 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 12 additional deaths.

Statewide case numbers and hospitalizations remain far below the peaks of mid-January, when the Maine CDC was overwhelmed by positive tests and hospitals were straining to care for more than 400 patients statewide. The latest wastewater tests and COVID-19 test trends indicate virus prevalence is continuing to decline in much of the state or remains relatively low.

 

The daily flow of positive tests reported to the Maine CDC also dropped Thursday, with the seven-day average falling below 200 for the first time since last summer. The seven-day average stood at 184 positive tests a day statewide Thursday, down from a peak of 2,486 positive tests a day during one seven-day period in January. Not all positive tests become confirmed cases, in part because some people get tested multiple times.

Cases and hospitalizations also continue to fall nationwide. New hospital admissions have dropped 28 percent over the past two weeks, according to federal data.

 

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Omicron continues to be the dominant strain of the virus detected in Maine, the state CDC reported this week.

The latest round of testing in March included a relatively small sample size and did not detect any cases of the omicron subvariant BA.2, although it was detected last month and is known to be present in Maine.

While omicron BA.2 appears to be more contagious than the more prevalent form of the variant, it is not expected to cause another major surge in the United States because vaccinations and natural immunity from previous infections still provide protection.

Over the course of the pandemic, Maine has recorded 233,273 COVID cases and 2,179 deaths.


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