Maine reported 1,411 cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 18 additional deaths, as hospitals are being inundated with patients ill from the omicron strain of the virus.
While the omicron variant is clearly driving a wave of infections in Maine and around the country, public health experts are increasingly de-emphasizing case counts as a way to track the pandemic and assess the risks. Those numbers are less useful because of a lag in reporting test results, the proliferation of at-home tests that are not reported to the state and the fact that many people who get mild symptoms don’t get tested at all. Since the pandemic began, Maine has logged 159,498 cases and 1,644 deaths.
Hospitalizations had not been updated as of Friday morning, but 436 were hospitalized on Thursday, an all-time record and an increase of 25 percent from two weeks ago. Maine crossed the 300-patient threshold less than two months ago and peaked at slightly more than 200 patients during the winter surge a year ago.
However, Maine’s intensive care utilization has decreased slightly over the past two weeks, with 103 in ICU units on Thursday, compared to in the 110-115 range two weeks ago. Maine’s experience is similar to reports from other places that have seen an omicron surge, where hospitalizations soar, but ICU admissions remain flat or decline. Omicron, early research is indicating, appears to cause a less severe form of the disease when compared to delta and earlier variants.
Meanwhile, the omicron variant is causing a surge in cases in schools, with some districts going fully remote or having some of the schools in their district go remote.
The MSAD 51 school district – which includes the towns of Cumberland and North Yarmouth – is going to remote learning on Friday, intending to return on Tuesday, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“This has been a challenging week for MSAD 51 schools,” said Superintendent Jeff Porter in an email to parents. “We have had serious staffing shortages most of the week, with about 15 percent of our staff out due to illness each day. We also have had large numbers of students absent from school this week – between 160-215 students out daily, with the highest absence (on Thursday).”
Some of the schools in Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Brunswick, Gorham, South Portland, Scarborough, Windham and Portland have also recently had remote days.
This story will be updated.