James Jarvis, senior physician executive of Northern Light Health's COVID-19 response, speaks about the new vaccine clinic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor during a Feb. 1, 2021 press conference. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The number of Mainers hospitalized COVID-19 has risen by more than a quarter in the past month, a change that a hospital official said “bears watching” as students return to school and the summer tourist season winds down.

The rise in hospitalizations could be an indication that COVID cases and deaths will continue to increase in the next several weeks, although BA.5, the predominant strain of COVID-19 circulating in Maine, is difficult to predict and it’s normal for respiratory illnesses to rise in the fall, said Dr. James Jarvis, senior physician executive for Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 response.

One month ago, Northern Light Health reported having roughly 20 people hospitalized with COVID across its network of 10 hospitals in Maine, but that number had spiked to 55 as of Friday, according to data provided by Northern Light.

The number of people hospitalized reflects a combination of those in the hospital primarily because of COVID-19, those who test positive upon being admitted for another reason, and those who bring the virus into the hospital while visiting others without a mask on, infecting other patients.

Outside factors such as students returning to school and a healthy tourist season in Maine also contribute to rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths because they increase the amount of COVID-19 in a community, Jarvis said.

“The pandemic isn’t over,” he said. “Somewhere between 350 and 500 Americans die every single day from COVID-related illnesses. Those could be prevented if we make sure everyone is up to date on their vaccinations and, when we’re somewhere where people are in close contact, we remain diligent about masking.”

Statewide, there were 175 Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with 19 in critical care. That marks a 26 percent increase from the 139 Mainers who were hospitalized with COVID-19 a month earlier, on Aug. 9.

At the pandemic’s peak in January 2022, Northern Light Health reported having 101 people hospitalized for COVID-19. The state set a record in mid-January with 436 Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19.

Although Maine’s current COVID-19 numbers are relatively low compared with other places in the U.S. and the height of the pandemic Maine saw last winter, Jarvis said it’s important for Mainers to do what they can to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, as it will always remain in the community.

Booster shots targeted specifically to the omicron variant are being rolled out.

“All of us are very tired of this pandemic, but at the same time you need to consider who you’re protecting,” Jarvis said. “We all come into contact with people who are at high risk, and that includes anyone over 50, anyone with an underlying condition, anyone being treated for cancer, and anyone who is pregnant.”

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...