In this Dec. 8, 2021, file photo, nurse Cassandra Pateneaude treats a patient in the hallway of the Maine Medical Center emergency department. Credit: Courtesy of MaineHealth

Maine saw a significant drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Friday, bringing that number below 400 for the first time in more than two weeks.

There are 357 Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state as of Friday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s down from 400 the day before.

Of those, 86 are in critical care, while there are 37 people on ventilators in hospitals across the state, both well below record highs.

Friday’s drop was among the largest falls in COVID-19 hospitalization seen since the pandemic began.

That comes as a relief for the state’s health care systems, which have become increasingly stressed during this latest surge in infections that took a toll on hospital workers. With more workers out due to infections, more hospitals have relaxed protocols around infected employees.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care system, on Thursday announced that it would no longer require employees who had been infected and underwent a five-day isolation to get retested before returning to work. At least one hospital, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, allowed staff infected with mild cases to continue working to alleviate the strain.

To relieve the strain on hospitals, Gov. Janet Mills this month mobilized the Maine Army National Guard to help with non-clinical duties.