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June 24, 2024

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rising Sharply in Maine As New Variants Spread

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Dec 28, 2023

Maine is seeing a concerning rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases as new Omicron subvariants spread across the state. Health officials are urging people to get updated booster shots and take precautions amid fears of a difficult winter season.

Hospitalizations Approaching Previous Peak Levels

According to data from the Maine CDC, as of December 27th there were 384 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. This approaches the pandemic peak of 436 hospitalizations last January during the Omicron surge.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said “COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled in the last two weeks in Maine. We’re now at a level we haven’t seen since last February.”

Many hospitals are also seeing high numbers of patients sick with flu and RSV, putting further strain on capacity. As of December 21st, 80% of hospital beds were full statewide. Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center had no available ICU beds.

New Omicron Subvariants Driving Increase

The rise in hospitalizations and case rates is being driven by the spread of new Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

Dr. Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, said “The COVID variants BQ 1 and BQ 1.1 are increasing rapidly and now causing most COVID-19 cases in New England.”

Date % of COVID Cases Caused by BQ.1/BQ.1.1
October 22nd 4%
November 19th 34%
December 3rd 66%

As the table shows, these new subvariants have come to dominate COVID infections in Maine in just six weeks. Their rapid growth outpaced previous variants.

BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection more easily than past strains. However, health officials stress that updated bivalent booster shots likely provide strong protection against severe disease.

Health Officials Urge Vaccinations, Vigilance

With COVID resurgent heading into the winter and hospitals already strained, Maine health authorities are advising people to take measures to protect themselves and others.

In particular, they are urging people to get the new bivalent booster shots targeting Omicron subvariants. CDC director Dr. Shah said “With the updated COVID-19 booster now readily available across Maine for everyone ages 5 and older, I strongly encourage Maine people to take advantage of the best tool we have to prevent serious illness.”

Only 15% of eligible Mainers have received the new booster so far. Health officials warn this leaves many at unnecessary risk, especially seniors who are most vulnerable.

Doctors are also advising people to reinstitute common sense precautions like masking in indoor public places as cases rise. Southern Maine Health Care chief medical officer Dr. Jay Mullen said “I would encourage people to wear high-quality, well-fitted masks right now when you go into public spaces, it will help slow transmission.”

Officials expect the situation to get worse before it improves. Northern Light Health associate chief medical officer Dr. James Jarvis said “Certainly I think we’re still on the upslope. I think January and February are going to be very difficult months.”

With COVID once again resurgent, Maine faces a challenging winter but hope remains that updated vaccines and responsible behavior can mitigate the worst potential outcomes. Health systems are already under strain so officials emphasize that individual actions to stop spread will be crucial.

What Happens Next?

Based on the rapid spread of new variants and capacity issues at hospitals, Maine is likely headed for a difficult January and February, matching last winter’s Omicron surge. Best case scenario is that enough people heed the call for vigilant behavior and booster shots to flatten growth in serious cases.

However, if boosters and precautions don’t slow things down adequately as expected, some restrictions on mass gatherings could return and elective procedures/surgeries may need to be postponed at overwhelmed hospitals. ICU capacity will be a crucial metric to watch in coming weeks.

The end of March offers hope that warmer weather provides relief shrinking indoor crowds and virus transmission as seen in past years. But uncertainty remains high, especially if yet another immune-evasive variant emerges. For that reason health officials will likely continue urging boosters and vigilance well through 2023, even if this surge eases.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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