The number of people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 increased to 156 on Sunday, up from 149 on Saturday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 156 hospitalized Sunday, 36 were in critical care units and five on ventilators. Doctors say a majority of those hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.

The rise is likely because of a more contagious variant now spreading. For more than a month, hospitalized patients remained steady between 90 and 100.

On Saturday, the state reported 1,018 new cases, the most Maine has seen since March 3.

The state also reported three additional deaths from the virus on Friday. Maine’s death toll now numbers 2,286. The state typically does not report new cases or additional deaths from the virus on Sundays and Mondays.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, said Saturday that new cases are climbing from the more infectious omicron variants BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5. But the high vaccination rates in Maine, and the high number of infections from January’s omicron surge, means there’s a “good immunity wall now,” she said.  People can still contract the virus, but the vaccines are helping to protect people from becoming seriously ill, Mills said.

New infections could continue to climb for a week or two, she said, but the good news is that most infections are not resulting in serious illnesses. Also, Mills said there are tools that didn’t exist two years ago to fight the virus, including the abundance of vaccines, testing, treatment and high-quality masks.

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