A man walks toward the main entrance at St. Joseph's Hospital in Bangor the morning of April 22. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus in Maine has surpassed a record threshold of 200, according to data released by the state on Thursday.

The uptick in hospitalizations, as well as several other metrics, suggest the virus situation in Maine is as bad as ever while the state continues to distribute vaccines to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that most Mainers are still months away from being vaccinated as the state waits for additional doses from the federal government.

The 202 patients currently hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday surpasses the previous state record of 198, set in mid-December. Hospitalizations did not surpass 100 until late November and have remained high over the past month. Much of that burden has been on hospitals in northern and eastern Maine, led by Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

As of Wednesday, 55 individuals were in critical care beds and 25 were on ventilators, according to the Maine CDC. Those patients occupy 22 percent of the state’s total critical care beds, showing that despite the record hospitalizations, the state’s capacity is not close to being overwhelmed, as has happened in other states.

Several other metrics indicate additional cause for concern. The seven-day average of new virus cases surpassed 500 for the first time this week, though it dropped to 490 on Thursday. Hospital numbers tend to lag behind case counts, suggesting that a higher infection rate seen in the first week of January could further drive up hospitalizations in the coming weeks.

Unlike early in the pandemic, when outbreaks were largely confined to southern Maine, the virus is spreading throughout the state in urban and rural areas alike. According to state data, only 11 Maine zip codes — collectively home to about 2,600 people — have yet to record a virus case.

Death rates also remain high. Sixty-two percent of coronavirus deaths in Maine occured since Nov, 1, while 40 percent occurred since Dec. 1, according to the Maine CDC. Fourteen deaths have already been recorded in the first six days of January, making this month already more deadly than March, June, August, September or October.

The January number is likely an undercount, as there is sometimes a lag of days in the state’s reporting of virus deaths. The Maine CDC reported 13 new deaths on Thursday, including a man in his 40s from Aroostook County, one of the youngest to die from the virus in Maine to date.

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