Relief for providers at Lewiston's Central Maine Medical Center as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low

·4 min read

Jun. 11—LEWISTON — Dr. Claudia Geyer is feeling relief for what might be the first time since March 12, 2020, when Central Maine Medical Center reported the state's first confirmed case of COVID-19.

The last time the chief of hospital medicine could recall the number of inpatients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at CMMC to be as low as it was Thursday was prior to the winter surge in cases. Then the Lewiston hospital was hit hard by the spring surge, when hospitalizations across the state were regularly in the triple digits.

"Unfortunately, our county and our hospital saw its highest portion of COVID patients April into May in the entire pandemic. So, we had that really difficult third wave occur in our area," Geyer said. "So, as of the last several weeks, we've seen the numbers come down, you know, we celebrated less than double digits. And today, we're so excited to have only three patients with COVID in the hospital. It's wonderful."

CMMC, along with St. Mary's Regional Medical Center and other hospitals across central and western Maine, are seeing the same declining trends in statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19. On Thursday, state health officials reported 49 hospitalizations, 27 of whom were in critical care. Of those patients in critical care, 14 are on a ventilator.

One week ago, there were 79 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, including six at CMMC and four at St. Mary's. One month ago, there were 118 individuals hospitalized, 14 of whom were at CMMC and five of whom were at St. Mary's.

Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties' seven-day rolling average of new daily COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents was higher than the statewide average Thursday, but was still a decrease from one week ago and a dramatic decrease from the peak of daily new cases mid-April.

State health officials reported 65 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including 11 in Androscoggin County, three in Franklin County and one in Oxford County. There were no new deaths.

"This last round, April into May, was really difficult because it was younger people, so people in their 40s, 50s, who were very sick," Geyer said. "And of course, predominately unvaccinated."

As of Thursday, 55.8% of all Androscoggin County residents who are eligible to receive a vaccine, or whom are 12 years of age and older, had received their first dose and 54.6% have received their final dose.

Compared to Maine's 16 other counties, Androscoggin County ranks 10th in terms of the percentage of the eligible residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Franklin and Oxford County ranked lower, at 14th and 11th, respectively.

Central and western Maine also lags behind the state as a whole for getting shots into arms: 61.6% of all Mainers have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 62% have completed their inoculations.

"I would say the theme remains that unvaccinated equals at risk for getting severe or critical disease," said Geyer, who has been working with COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic.

"What's wonderful is it's become a preventable disease."

The vice president and chief operating officer for Central Maine Medical Group said earlier this week that Central Maine Healthcare has no plans to close its high-volume vaccination site at the Auburn Mall.

"While demand has eased in recent weeks, CMH with its partners is vaccinating between 100 and 300 people each day we operate," Amy Lee said.

The clinic will continue to be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for appointments and walk-ins. Providers there have administered more than 33,200 vaccinations since it opened on March 17, according to Lee.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has designated 13 schools in central and western Maine as current outbreak sites as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Maine CDC opens at an outbreak investigation at a school when there are three or more individuals from different households test positive for COVID-19 within a two-week period. Investigations are preliminarily closed 14 days after the last positive test or onset of symptoms occurred, whichever is later, and are officially closed 28 days — or two incubation periods — after the last positive test or onset of symptoms occurred.

The bulk of the outbreaks are in Androscoggin County, including four in Lewiston and one each in Auburn, Durham, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls and Poland.

Those sites are: Farwell Elementary School, Lewiston High School, Robert V. Connors Elementary School, Thomas J. McMahon Elementary School, Auburn Middle School, Durham Community School, Lisbon Community School, Phillip W. Sugg Middle School and Poland Regional High School.

There are also investigations at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Guy E. Rowe School in Norway, Oxford Elementary School in Oxford and Oxford Hills Middle School in South Paris.

Seven of the schools have students under the age of 12. At present, only the Pfizer-BioNTech is authorized for use in individuals 12 years and older.