Maine hospitals see slight drop in COVID-19 patients

The number of hospitalized patients infected with COVID-19 declined slightly Monday but remains at a near-record level as hospitals await the arrival of Maine Army National Guard members later this week.

The number of inpatients infected with the virus dropped to 406 from 415 on Sunday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those patients, 107 were in intensive care and 55 were on ventilators. On Sunday, 109 patients were in intensive care and 56 were breathing with assistance from ventilators.

The CDC did not update case numbers Monday because processing of positive tests was paused over the weekend and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

People infected with the highly contagious omicron variant have filled hospitals in Maine and nationwide in recent weeks. Even though it often causes less severe symptoms than previous strains of the virus, the variant is far more transmissible, leading to an overall increase in the number of people who need hospital care.

Omicron is infecting more people who are fully vaccinated than previous strains, but those sick enough to seek hospital care are overwhelmingly individuals who were not vaccinated, according to hospital and state officials.

Maine hospitals have been caring for more than twice the number of patients who were hospitalized at the peak of the COVID-19 surge last winter. At the same time, they are struggling with severe staffing shortages because frontline workers are missing work because they are infected or were exposed to the virus.

The Maine Army National Guard will deploy 169 Guard members to 16 hospitals and health care facilities across the state starting on Thursday. Those Guard members are in addition to nearly 40 others who were deployed to help hospitals last month.

The Guard members will help in non-clinical support roles to allow medical staff to focus on the surge of patients.

In addition, the federal government has sent federal ambulance crews and is sending a second surge response team of medical staff to Maine in the coming days.

While hospitals across the country are straining to care for the sick, some signs have emerged  that the omicron wave could pass more quickly than previous surges of the virus.

Cases have begun to decline in New York, and testing of wastewater in Boston has shown a dramatic decline in the prevalence of the virus, suggesting the pace of new infections there has passed its peak.

While there is no widespread testing of wastewater in Maine, a similar drop in the levels of virus was detected last week in wastewater tested by the town of Yarmouth. Because omicron has spread first in more populated southern and coastal communities, Yarmouth could see a decline even as the surge continues elsewhere in the state.

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