Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continued to fall across the state over the past week, even in the parts of southern Maine that have continued to see significant numbers of people testing positive for the disease.
At Maine Medical Center, which has had nearly half of the state’s confirmed coronavirus inpatients through most of the crisis, the number of confirmed COVID-19 inpatients hovered at between 8 and 11 over the week ending Thursday, down from a peak level of 35 hit on both April 7 and May 25. The inpatient count Tuesday and Wednesday was the lowest daily number there since March 22, at the beginning of the crisis.
At Portland’s other major hospital, Mercy, the number of inpatients fell from five to zero during the period, down from five to eight the previous week and eight to ten the week before that, which had been the busiest that hospital had experienced during the pandemic.
In Androscoggin County, hospitalizations have fortunately not been paralleling discouraging trends in new cases. The county saw a dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases in mid-May – going from a seven-day average of one case at the end of April to more than 15 on May 23 – and over the past seven days has averaged a still-high nine cases a day, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, 29 people were hospitalized Thursday with COVID-19. That’s fewer than half of the 60 who were hospitalized with the disease just two weeks earlier.
Hospitalizations, when they occur, typically follow at least two weeks after exposure, but the county’s two major hospitals have no seen a commiserate spike.
Central Maine Medical Center, however, averaged 1.7 COVID-19 inpatients a day over the past week and 0.7 patients a day the week before that. Lewiston’s other hospital, St. Mary’s, reporting for the first time, averaged 3.7 a day, roughly comparable to the week before, though an exact comparison could not be made because the older data included presumed COVID-19 cases, not just confirmed ones.
Dr. John Alexander, chief medical officer for CMMC’s parent, Central Maine Health Care, said this is happening because testing expanded in May to include more younger and healthier people who are less likely to be hospitalized by the disease.
“Because we had very limited testing capacity early on, we only wanted to test people who had a very high likelihood of both having the disease and having an adverse outcome,” Alexander said. “Now we are just testing exposures very widely.”
Alexander also said the low levels of hospitalizations in the state are in large degree due to Mainers taking the disease seriously. “We have as a state we have understood and we have taken into action the guidance around masking, around social distancing and around essentially keeping each other safe,” he said.
The data, for the week ending June 11, was collected directly from the hospitals by the Press Herald, which has been reporting the hospital-by-hospital trends weekly since April 18.
York County’s hospitals were also relatively quiet. Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center in Biddeford – which has had the most pandemic inpatients overall after Maine Med – averaged 3 COVID-19 inpatients a day for the week, down from 4.1 a day the week before. York Hospital in York had no COVID-19 inpatients for the second week running.
MaineGeneral in Augusta, the hospital which has had the fourth largest pandemic burden to date, fell to an average of 1 patient a day for the week, down from 3.1 patients the week before. Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor had no COVID-19 inpatients at all, and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick hasn’t had such a patient since May 23.
Three smaller hospitals reported having a patient during the course of the week: Bridgton, Waldo in Belfast and Franklin Memorial in Farmington. The Press Herald’s survey includes most of the state’s hospitals and accounts for the vast majority of the statewide hospitalizations reported by the Maine CDC each week.
In all cases, hospitalizations can end three ways: recovery, death, or transfer to another facility. The data does not include outpatients or inpatients who were suspected of having the virus but never tested.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, because it typically takes two or three weeks after exposure for an acutely affected person to become sick enough to be admitted, but it is one that is a metric that is not effected by how many people are tested.