The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Last week, Maine hospital officials warned that their facilities were nearing a crisis as 90 percent of the state’s intensive care unit beds were occupied, many of them with patients who are being treated for COVID-19.
“We’re very close to being swamped,” Steve Michaud, the executive director of the Maine Hospital Association, said Friday.
On Friday, 71 COVID patients were in the ICU in Maine. That was as high as the pandemic’s peak in January, before vaccinations for the virus were readily available. On Monday, 69 COVID patients were in the ICU, with 28 on ventilators.
There were no COVID-19 patients at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor on July 23. About a month later, the hospital was treating 32 people with the coronavirus, including 18 in the ICU on Friday.
The delta variant, which is more virulent and transmissible than other COVID variants, is a major reason for the spike. Patients infected with the delta variant tend to be young and sicker than the patients seen previously in the pandemic.
Across the state, about half of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients now require critical care, compared to about a third during the last large virus surge in the winter, according to state hospitalization figures.
As a result, COVID deaths are also increasing.
These numbers are especially frustrating because this situation was likely avoidable after COVID vaccines became readily available earlier this year.
About 80 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at MaineHealth facilities were unvaccinated, Joan Boomsma, the chief medical officer for the southern Maine healthcare company, said on Thursday.
All of the patients in the ICU with severe COVID-19 have not had the vaccine, she said.
Although Maine’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the country — more than 70 percent of the state’s eligible population — that still leaves more than 400,000 here unvaccinated, and vulnerable to the virus, which could mutate into an even more dangerous variant. That includes about 160,000 children who are not eligible for the vaccines and therefore must count on adults to keep them safe.
Keeping yourself and others safe from COVID means getting vaccinated and, because of the recent resurgence of the virus, wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
Extremely limited critical care capacity at Maine’s hospitals is compounded by staff shortages because of the virus. Although more than 80 percent of staff are vaccinated in the state’s major hospital networks, nurses, technicians and others must still stay away from work if they are exposed to someone with COVID or test positive for the illness.
This month, about 400 employees missed work because of exposure to the virus or a positive test in Brewer-based Northern Light Health’s system, which includes 10 hospitals.
Vaccinations will be required for all health care workers in Maine on Oct. 1 as a result of a mandated rule change from Gov. Janet Mills. Some states, cities, companies and the federal government have announced vaccine, mask or testing requirements for their employees.
If you get infected with COVID, the deterioration of your health can be horrific, as a respiratory therapist chronicled in an Aug. 29 Bangor Daily News column. For those who are vaccinated and have a severe breakthrough infection that requires hospitalization, the illness usually ends with treatment with antiviral medications, steroids and oxygen.
For the unvaccinated, Karen Gallardo, wrote, the illness progresses from a difficulty breathing through sedation and intubation to blood oxygenation and kidney dialysis to heart stoppage.
“I’ve been at this for 17 months now. It doesn’t get easier,” she wrote. “My pandemic stories rarely end well.”
The best way to ensure that your pandemic story ends well, and to stay out of Maine’s overburdened hospitals, is to get vaccinated, and to wear a mask when recommended.