COVID-19 cases are climbing again in Maine, and the number of hospitalizations has reached its highest point since April. Wastewater surveillance is also showing “very high” levels of the virus circulating throughout New England.

“COVID is still ruining holidays and keeping people out of work,” said Dr. Laura Blaisdell, president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It is still a severe disease.”

Blaisdell said that with more people indoors during the winter and large groups gathering for holiday celebrations, the coronavirus has a greater opportunity to spread.

Maine recorded 96 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Dec. 21, the latest day data was available. That’s the highest number of infected patients in Maine hospitals since April 4, when there were 121. Hospitalizations have generally been increasing in recent months, from about 40-50 in September and October to 70s-90s since November.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting stable numbers of COVID hospitalizations in Maine and nationally through mid-January.

Hospitalizations are still far from the peak of the omicron variant wave – 436 patients were hospitalized with COVID in Maine on Jan. 13, 2022. Official case counts are no longer considered a reliable measure of the prevalence of the virus, in part because of large numbers of unreported positive home-test results.


But scientists consider wastewater surveillance an accurate measure of virus levels. Wastewater surveillance is showing “very high” levels of COVID-19 in the New England states, New Jersey and midwestern states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to the U.S. CDC.

In Maine, elevated levels of coronavirus are being reported in many parts of the state, including Cumberland, York and Penobscot counties.

On Christmas Day, the Yarmouth wastewater surveillance system raised its “COVID-O-Meter” from “moderate” to “high,” and the district encouraged people to get vaccinated and to consider limiting large gatherings, especially those who are immune compromised.

The current variant circulating, JN.1, is a subvariant of omicron. While it is highly contagious, it doesn’t appear to be any more severe than earlier omicron subvariants, scientists have said.

Blaisdell said she is strongly encouraging everyone who has not yet received an updated COVID-19 vaccine to get one. The U.S. CDC recommends that people get their flu and COVID-19 shots during the same appointment. The updated COVID-19 vaccine was approved by federal regulators in mid-September, and after initial problems with supplies, became widely available in October.

Blaisdell said it’s difficult to persuade patients to get the latest COVID-19 vaccine, and they are generally more comfortable with getting an annual flu shot. While Maine no longer tracks COVID-19 vaccinations, less than 20% of adults in the U.S. have been getting the updated vaccine, while typically about 40% of adults get a flu shot every year.

Blaisdell said that while vaccination and natural immunity are more widespread than in the early days of the pandemic, which reduces the impact of the virus on the general population, COVID-19 is still a significant and potentially lethal disease.

“People should think about protecting themselves, and the vaccine is effective at doing so,” Blaisdell said.

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