Registered nurse Scott McGieson looks at records in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as Kevin Barrett, in quarantine after his former hospital roommate tested positive for COVID-19, sits in bed as he recovers from an injury on Friday. Credit: Elaine Thompson / AP

Mainers infected with COVID-19 are requiring hospitalization at less than half the rate they did during a previous coronavirus surge that took place about a year ago. That reality offers little peace of mind, however, as a staggering case volume pushes hospitals to the brink with record numbers of infected patients that are likely to continue climbing in the coming weeks.

An analysis of state coronavirus data comparing the current virus surge driven by the omicron variant with two previous surges shows that a smaller portion of infected people are ending up in the hospital due to omicron, and that fewer are succumbing to the virus.

But the less severe and less deadly nature of the ongoing surge isn’t enough to offset the sheer number of infections driven by the omicron variant, the analysis shows.

Some 1.1 percent of people infected with the coronavirus since Dec. 1, 2021, have ended up in the hospital, compared with 2.4 percent of those infected during a surge of the virus a year ago before vaccines were widely available. And the current surge’s actual hospitalization rate is likely far lower, as day-to-day case numbers are likely an undercount due to the prevalence of at-home tests whose results aren’t reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

By comparison, a virus surge driven by the delta variant that lasted through much of this past fall resulted in the hospitalization of just under 2 percent of those infected.

The numbers offer another data point showing that the omicron variant is milder than past variants of COVID-19. But its highly contagious nature is resulting in enough hospitalizations to keep hospitals strained.

About 10 people are being hospitalized a day in Maine during the ongoing surge, which is up from about nine per day during the winter 2021 surge. The seemingly small change is significant for hospitals, which have a finite number of beds.

While the coronavirus’ death toll is still significant, Maine CDC data also show the pace of deaths has slowed during the omicron surge, with the state reporting 5.48 deaths per day since Dec. 1, 2021, compared with 6.37 per day during the winter 2021 surge that lasted from about Dec. 1, 2020, through mid-February 2021.

Another marked difference between the omicron surge and the virus surge a year ago is the geographic impact. While the most rural parts of Maine were largely spared the worst of the winter 2021 surge, that is no longer the case.

The three counties with the highest hospitalization rates during the omicron surge have been more rural — Somerset, Penobscot and Piscataquis. The winter 2021 surge hit densely populous regions more heavily, with Oxford, York and Penobscot counties reporting the highest hospitalization rates.

Omicron’s death toll has hit Maine’s least populous county, Piscataquis, hardest since Dec. 1, 2021, followed by Kennebec and Oxford counties. Oxford County saw the highest death rate during last winter’s surge, followed by Aroostook and Hancock counties.