Apr. 16—Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have spiked at Lewiston's Central Maine Medical Center, making this week the heaviest there since the worst of the winter peak in January.
CMMC's confirmed COVID-19 inpatient count averaged 15.6 a day for the week ending Thursday, a record level for the hospital and up sharply from 9.4 the week before. That's the second worst week on record for CMMC, just slightly below the high of 16 inpatients per day the third week of January.
The inpatient surge mirrors a spike in new coronavirus cases in Androscoggin County, where the seven-day average hit 70.3 cases per day Friday, the highest level since mid-January, when they peaked at 71.6. The seven-day average stood in the mid-teens just three weeks ago. For acutely affected patients, hospitalizations typically lag exposure by one to three weeks.
"Admissions are increasing along with the prevalence of COVID in the community. We are seeing a younger population that needs a higher level of care and oxygen therapy. COVID patients from our regional hospitals in Bridgton and Rumford go to Central Maine Medical Center when they require more intensive treatment," said Kris Chaisson, CMMC's vice president of nursing and patient care services and Central Maine Healthcare's incident commander.
In the past, however, the majority of those hospitalized by coronavirus have been Mainers over the age of 65, most of whom are now fully vaccinated. Over the past two weeks, hospitals have reported seeing more younger patients struggling with COVID-19 in their emergency rooms.
The inpatient surge appears confined to Androscoggin County for now, with hospitals elsewhere in the state not seeing a similar trend. CMMC, a 250-bed hospital, now has more than 50 percent more COVID-19 inpatients than the entire 10-hospital Northern Light network, which includes Portland's Mercy Hospital and 322-bed Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the hospital hardest hit during this past winter's surge.
The total number of people hospitalized for the disease statewide has remained fairly stable since the second half of February, though it has remained well above the peak levels of the first COVID-19 surge in the spring of 2020. The statewide count has ticked up in recent days, with the 14-day daily average hitting 104 Thursday, up 7 percent from the day before. The statewide peak for COVID hospital admissions was set on Jan. 13, when 207 people were being treated.
The COVID-19 inpatient burden at the state's largest hospital, 613-bed Maine Medical Center in Portland, has remained fairly even since mid-February, with average daily counts in the high teens. For the week ending Thursday, coronavirus hospitalizations there averaged 8.9 a day, far below the peak of 40.9 the third week of January.
EMMC, the state's second largest hospital, had an average of just 4.9 COVID-19 inpatients daily for the week ending Thursday.
Central Maine's other major hospital, MaineGeneral in Augusta, has seen a gentle but steady increase in COVID-19 inpatients over the past month, and stood at an average of 10.4 a day this week.
With vaccines being rolled out, the pandemic had eased in recent months in the United States, but new cases are trending slightly higher now than they were a month ago. States reported 34,367 positive tests and 912 deaths on Thursday, according to The New York Times tracker.
For much of the pandemic, Maine has been one of the best performing states in the country in terms of per capita disease prevalence, but by Friday it had risen to the 10th worst in the country with 31 new cases a day per 100,000 residents. New Hampshire is the ninth worst at 32 per 100,000, and Massachusetts ranks 11th with 29 per 100,000, according to the Times.
"Being vaccinated does not mean that people can let their guard down," Chaisson said. "Wearing masks and restricting social engagements and crowds is highly encouraged. We need every single person in our healthcare environment to be safe and healthy to care for our community and we ask that community members do the same."
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator in that they typically occur one to three weeks after a person is exposed to the disease, but unlike other metrics, it is not dependent on who and how many people were tested. They can end in three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility.
The Press Herald compiles inpatient data directly from the hospitals and hospital networks. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients suspected of having the virus but who were never tested.