COVID-19 hospital admissions fell again Monday to levels not seen since before Thanksgiving as pandemic conditions continue to ease in Maine.
Hospital admissions fell from 291 on Sunday to 275 on Monday, a drop of 37 percent from the peak of the pandemic of 436 on 13 January and the lowest since 19 November. Patients in the intensive care unit ticked down from 67 on Sunday to 65 on Monday. Hospital admissions have been declining on most days since the end of January, when the omicron wave peaked and began a steady decline.
John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven other Maine hospitals, said hospital admissions to the MaineHealth network were 55 Monday, down from a peak of just under 200 in the last week of January.
Maine Med has relaxed its visitor policies as conditions have improved.
Porter said MaineHealth is considering rescheduling surgeries that had been delayed, such as knee and hip replacements, to maintain capacity for COVID-19 patients.
“We’re starting to talk about increasing the number of procedures we do every day and looking at our backlog of deferred procedures,” Porter said.
At the national level, admissions have fallen significantly, with 25 per cent fewer admissions in the week 2-8. February compared to the week of January 26-Feb. 1, according to the latest weekly comparison from the US CDC.
Meanwhile, as conditions improve, restrictions and security policies are loosened. Portland fired last week its indoor mask mandate, which will be lifted on 17 February. School inspectors and officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention met last week and are continuing discussions on pandemic recommendations, such as indoor masking and testing, among other issues.
Maine does not have a nationwide mask mandate for schools, but most schools follow the Maine CDC’s recommendations and enforce local mandates that require universal masking. The Maine CDC and Maine Department of Education say schools that do not have universal masking in place should have stricter quarantine policies for students and staff exposed to COVID-19.
Some school leaders in Maine are looking to the CDC to revise the guidelines to say that masks are optional or will soon be, similar to announcements in other states that have formal mandates.
Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all set dates for when school mask mandates expire, or indicated when they are likely to, with Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut setting or likely to set a February 28 date, and Rhode Island sets a 4. March date for when masks will be optional in schools. New Hampshire, like Maine, has not set a date for optional masking, but state epidemiologist told New Hampshire Public Radio last week that school masking recommendations could soon change.
As another sign that the pandemic is ebbing out in Maine, the average number of daily positive tests reported to the Maine CDC dropped to 883 for the week of 7-11. February, down from 1,404 the previous week, down 37 percent. It has plunged 72 percent from a peak of 3,188 in the week of January 10-14. The number of raw tests reported to the Maine CDC is different from confirmed cases, in part because confirmed cases weed out duplicate positive tests.
The positivity rate – the percentage of all tests performed that return positive – has also dropped, another good sign. The positivity rate was 8.6 percent on Monday compared to 14.4 percent two weeks ago and more than 20 percent at the top of the omicron wave in mid-January.
The number of confirmed cases is no longer a reliable measure to measure current pandemic trends because Maine has a significant backlog of more than 50,000 cases that have not yet been processed.
Robert Long, a Maine CDC spokesman, said Monday that the agency is currently reviewing the backlog. As a result, the number of confirmed cases will increase dramatically as of Tuesday, as tests submitted weeks ago are added to the number of cases.
“The Maine CDC has addressed a backlog of positive test results that accumulated due to the omicron rise. In recent days, we launched a system to automate part of this process,” Long said in a statement. The Maine CDC Web site for several days, starting with the February 15 update, shows a significant increase in the daily inventory of the total number of cases, confirmed cases and probable cases. Deaths, hospitalizations, and wastewater screening data remain the best measures to determine the developmental impact of COVID-19. “