Saying Maine is at a "tipping point" amid a sustained surge of COVID-19, Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday announced the activation of the Maine National Guard to help alleviate capacity constraints at hospitals.
She is also asking the Biden administration for federal COVID-19 response teams to help.
"These actions, we hope, will alleviate the strain on our health care system and provide better care for those who are ill," Mills said at a news conference.
The National Guard deployment will start next week and run through January, she said. Up to 75 members of the guard will assist health care staff with non-care-related tasks like transporting patients.
The surge in Maine is peaking, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said. It's so big that the agency needs more staff to process all the COVID tests arriving each day.
"There are now more positive test results coming in than we can process in a single day," he said.
As of Wednesday, 379 people in Maine were hospitalized with COVID-19, which is a record high for the state. Of those, 117 were in critical care and 60 were on ventilators. There were only 42 available critical care beds across the state — 31 adult beds and 11 youth beds.
The Maine CDC reported eight additional deaths of people with COVID-19, bringing the state death toll to 1,356.
The Maine CDC reported 1,275 additional COVID-19 cases in the state.
"While we're celebrating holidays across our state, so many are not so lucky. Hundreds, again, fighting for their lives right here," Mills said.
Of the 125,373 COVID-19 cases that have been reported throughout the pandemic, 89,593 have been confirmed and 35,780 have been probable.
State health officials continued to urge residents to get vaccinated as a means of stemming the spike in cases.
Wednesday afternoon's National Guard announcement followed a news conference at which top leadership of MaineHealth, the operator of Maine Medical Center MMC, Maine's largest hospital, said they were being pushed "to the brink."
They explained that on this past Monday, MMC had run out of capacity to take in more ICU patients with COVID-19. At times this week, MMC has had no critical care beds at all and had put on "diversion," which means that all but the most critical patients were turned away.
A video released by the hospital on Wednesday showed people being treated in a hallway, a sign of how full the facility is. There are also significant impacts to people who need non-emergency care.
"These surgeries we're cancelling right now are things like joint replacements, like hip replacements, some spinal surgeries," said Dr. Joel Botler, the center's chief medical officer.
He explained that 50% of all of the hospital's surgeries are now being rescheduled, with six operating rooms closing to pivot staff elsewhere.
Still, despite the dire circumstances, Maine state officials said they have not reached their highest level of contingency planning in order to provide emergency care, and hospital leaders believe they could handle an emergency in which 100 people or more would need immediate critical care.
"Yes, we would have to handle it, we have a disaster plan," Botler said.