May 28—LEWISTON — For weeks, state health officials have been warning that even as more Mainers are getting vaccinated and case rates decline after a spring surge, hospitalizations remain high and the number of younger, sicker patients is going up.
"Quite frankly, I can't recall a 30-year-old coming in last fall," Dr. Al Teng, chief of critical care at Central Maine Medical Center's parent company, Central Maine Healthcare, said Friday.
"The development of younger patients coming in needing higher level of care with COVID is a relatively new development over the past three months," he said.
Hospitalizations are considered a lagging indicator of high case rates. Prior the recent surge of cases in March and April, most patients who required hospitalizations were in their 60s and older, Teng said.
Though there aren't these huge influxes of people 50 and younger in hospitals, nor do they make up the majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19, just one more patient is stark enough, Dr. John Alexander, CMHC's chief medical officer, said.
A few months ago, "the pattern has held pretty, pretty consistent. The people who were most likely to be hospitalized and most likely require a ventilator were people who were older and had comorbid conditions such as heart or lung disease," Alexander said.
Now, patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s are ending up in the hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19 and even requiring what Teng described as "critical care for life-threatening respiratory failure."
The disease is "affecting young people more systematically," Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said this month. From his conversations with health care network executives in Maine, Shah said young people coming into hospitals are largely unvaccinated.
Shah urged people to get vaccinated: "You've got a tool to protect yourself, which is getting vaccinated."
On Friday, the Lewiston hospital recorded 10 patients with COVID-19, including four in critical care and none of whom were on a ventilator, according to data from the Maine CDC.
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center had five patients, two of whom were listed in critical care. One of the critical care patients was on a ventilator.
State health officials Friday reported 111 hospitalizations across the state, a promising sign compared to early March, when there were regularly over 120 hospitalizations per day. Forty five of the patients Friday were in critical care, 19 of them on a ventilator.
On May 8, the same day the state recorded 134 hospitalizations, CMMC had 22 patients with COVID-19, seven of whom were in critical care.
Teng said he thinks the combination of unvaccinated people with "significant pandemic fatigue" is the likely explanation for the recent increase in hospitalizations.
Alexander, the chief medical officer, said the majority of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at CMMC in recent weeks had not been vaccinated.
"It's important that we continue to be vigilant where we can for those folks who haven't yet had the opportunity to get vaccinated. If they're eligible, please consider doing so," Alexander said.
"We can share some optimism that the COVID numbers are improved in Maine and also nationally," Teng said.
"But make no mistake: It's still a prominent threat. And we know that vaccinations can really save lives."