COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine reached another record high on Friday, but updated daily case totals were not available because the state lab that processes tests was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
As of Friday, there were 119 people hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 14 over the previous day, including 51 in critical care and 15 on a ventilator. This time last month, only 11 people were hospitalized, none of them in critical care.
Cases will be updated again Saturday morning and will reflect case investigations and tests processed on Friday as of 11:59 p.m. Cases could be higher because the data will reflect tests collected over a period greater than 24 hours, but it’s also possible that fewer test samples were turned in during the holiday. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah said Wednesday that the lab and its workers haven’t taken a day off since March.
The CDC reported 238 new cases on Thursday, which was the 7th time in 10 days that cases had topped 200. The 7-day average increased to 221, compared to 49 one month ago and just 27 two months ago. Since the pandemic began, there have been 11,265 confirmed or probable cases. The total has doubled since Oct. 7 and 1,317 cases, or about 12 percent, have happened just in the last seven days.
There were no additional deaths reported Thursday, which left the state’s total at 190. There had been at least one death in each of the previous 10 days, including 12 fatalities reported on Tuesday alone. So far in November, 43 people have died with COVID-19 in Maine, the second most of any month behind April.
Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 often lag behind case spikes by about two weeks, which means more of both are likely.
Although Maine’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been rising sharply over the last month, the state is still faring better than many others. Maine’s rate of infection is the second-lowest behind Vermont. Maine also still has sufficient hospital bed capacity at this point, although some hospitals have begun preparing to convert regular beds to critical care beds if needed. The state also has plans for two alternative care sites, or field hospitals, that can be set up on short notice.
Throughout the country, there have been more than 12 million infected with COVID-19 and more than 260,000 deaths. The U.S. CDC said Friday that deaths could top 320,000 by mid-December, in part due to expected spikes from holiday travel. Many of those who traveled were college students who won’t be allowed to return to campus until the new year.
Accross the University of Maine System, there were 110 positive cases among more than 30,000 students, faculty, and staff. Of those, 101 were associated with the flagship campus in Orono. All are in isolation until their symptoms have passed and they are no longer considered infectious.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, which compiles publicly available state data, the 7-day average number of cases has doubled just since Election Day. Like Maine, several other states did not report new cases on Friday because of the holiday. As of Thursday, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized with the virus.
Maine has continued to see good testing capacity. As of Tuesday, the state’s testing rate was 727 tests per 100,000 residents, well above the national, seven-day average of 548 tests per 100,000. But a pre-holiday testing crunch in Maine also led to challenges for some people both in getting tested and it getting results back in a timely manner. Those with symptoms of COVID-19 generally face little to no delay obtaining tests, but the situation is different for some asymptomatic Mainers hoping to take advantage of free testing at the state-affiliated “swab-and-send” sites.
Shah also cautioned Mainers not to allow a negative test result to provide them with a false sense of security that leads to riskier behavior. He said a negative result, while encouraging, should be viewed as “a snapshot” that does not offer an “ironclad guarantee” of health.
“The test tells you what was happening at the moment the sample was taken,” Shah said Wednesday. “You could have been exposed the morning that you got your test or you could be exposed the day after you got your test done. All the more reason why we can’t let down our guard with the basics. Face coverings, physical distancing, avoiding crowds are just as important today as they were back in March.”