Jan. 10—COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine reached a record 403 patients on Monday as omicron spreads rapidly into the state.
The number of intensive care patients remained flat, however, indicating that patients infected with omicron are less likely to need critical care.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the more contagious omicron variant now accounts for between 70 and 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state based on the most recent testing by Jackson Laboratories in Bar Harbor. The strain is far more contagious and has driven up hospital patient counts worldwide even though it appears to cause less severe symptoms in general than previous strains of the virus.
There are now twice as many people hospitalized with COVID-19 than were at the peak of the surge last winter, and the number is expected to climb higher as omicron infects a larger swath of the population. Hospitalizations have typically totaled more than 350 per day since early December, when the the surge in cases was fueled by the delta variant.
While the overall number of patients has been rising swiftly, the number of those in intensive care units has not. The 107 COVID-19 patients in intensive care Monday was the same as Sunday, and only one patient more than the 106 reported Friday. Fifty-seven patients were on ventilators on Monday, four higher than on Sunday.
The number of ICU patients peaked at 133 on Dec. 19 before declining, and has been hovering around 110 patients per day since Jan. 3, even as total hospitalizations have climbed.
With omicron, which is more contagious but appears to cause less severe disease than the delta variant, some hospitals across the country are experiencing a "decoupling," where cases and hospitalizations rise, but ICU utilization remains flat, as fewer patients are in severe respiratory distress. A study by Houston Methodist health care system in Texas of more than 1,300 patients shows that patients infected with omicron were less likely to need hospitalization, and those that did had, on average, had shorter hospital stays than patients infected with delta or earlier variants.
Omicron also is infecting many people who have been fully vaccinated and had booster shots, although they tend to have milder symptoms and are at far lower risk of hospitalization. More than two-thirds of patients in Maine hospitals have been unvaccinated, according to public health officials. Unvaccinated patients account for an even higher percentage of the patients in critical care.
Case counts are not updated over the weekend, and the next release of cases will be on Tuesday.