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Maine sees record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations

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A record number of people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Maine on Monday amid the latest surge of the deadly coronavirus.

Hospitalizations have been rising steadily for weeks and could continue to set new records based on COVID-19 case trends, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates. On Sunday, Maine tied the previous record of 207 hospitalizations - set at the peak of last winter's surge when only a fraction of the population had been vaccinated - only to surpass it Monday with 214 hospital admissions.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, called Monday's figure "another dark record." Shah also cited a recent study published by the U.S. CDC showing that unvaccinated people in Los Angeles County, California, were 29 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals at the tail end of the study period in late-July.

"Hospitals are strained," Shah said on Twitter. "If you are banking on a bed or an ICU - let alone monoclonal antibodies - as your strategy rather than getting vaccinated, you are miscalculating."

The number of people in intensive care units stood at 73 on Monday - down six from Sunday - and there were 33 people connected to ventilators. There were 58 critical care beds available across the state.

Shah said that more than 90 percent of all ICU patients in Maine were unvaccinated and 65 to 75 percent of all hospitalizations involved people who were not fully vaccinated.

Maine's hospitals have been straining to keep pace with the late-summer surge of severely ill COVID-19 patients as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the state. While new case numbers were not available on Monday, Maine's seven-day average of new coronavirus cases stood at 485 late last week, which is roughly five time as high as the weekly average at the beginning of August.

Unlike during earlier stages of the pandemic in Maine, the more rural and sparsely populated counties in the interior of the state are seeing much higher case rates than southern, more urban counties along the coast.

Piscataquis County had the highest seven-day average followed by Somerset, Penobscot, Franklin and Waldo counties. Per capita rates in Piscataquis County were nearly quadruple those in Cumberland County and triple York County's rates for the week ending on Saturday.

But Penobscot County is currently seeing the biggest spike in cases, averaging 110 cases daily for the previous week. And that trend is now being felt at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

EMMC reported 56 COVID-19 patients as of Monday morning compared to an average of just 18 daily patients two months ago. Systemwide, Northern Light Health was reporting 96 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, including at least one patient at each of the network's seven other hospitals and 11 patients being cared for through home care or hospice.

MaineHealth, which operates eight hospitals around the state, reported a total of 52 COVID patients on Monday, 28 of whom were at Maine Medical Center while 14 were at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford. That is up slightly from 49 COVID in-patients across MaineHealth's network on Friday.

Among the 27 people in the ICU in MaineHealth hospitals on Monday, just three people had been fully vaccinated against the disease while 12 of the 14 connected to ventilators were unvaccinated.

Hospitals officials have reported that their facilities are, indeed, straining under the pressure of having to treat this latest surge of COVID patients during what is already a busy time of year.

MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta has been consistently operating at 98 to 100 percent capacity in recent weeks, while Maine Medical Center in Portland has been forced to divert ambulances to other facilities on several days because of a lack of space in the emergency department.

In addition to the steady increase in people severely ill with COVID, hospitals also are grappling with a bottleneck of beds for discharged patients. Many nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other long-term care facilities are severely limiting the number of new clients they accept - or have closed their doors to new patients - because they lack the staff necessary to meet strict federal staff-to-resident ratio requirements.

Statewide on Monday, 73.4 percent of eligible Mainers 12 or older had received all of the requisite doses for full vaccination, while 64.8 percent of the entire population of 1.3 million had received a final dose. That percentage ranges from a high of 75.9 percent in Cumberland County to a low of 52.2 percent in Somerset County.

To date, the Maine CDC has tracked 83,910 confirmed or probably cases of COVID-19 since March 2020 and has reported 984 deaths linked to the viral disease. Despite the recent surge, Maine continues to have among the lowest infection and death rates in the country, according to tracking by The New York Times. Maine also had the third-highest full vaccination rate in the nation, according to Bloomberg.

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