A pair of pedestrians wear masks in Portland on Friday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are 22 days until the new Maine Legislature is seated. The Daily Brief will be taking a break tomorrow in honor of Veterans Day. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I actually think it motivated some schools to jump on board because they were worried they wouldn’t be able to offer a lot of things to kids,” said Mike Bisson, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, which has authorized e-sports as an alternative to regular sports amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Some scrambled at the last minute to get it and a lot more signed up for the spring.”

What we’re watching today

Coronavirus cases are on the rise, though the state is not repeating the sorts of drastic shutdown action from the spring for now. Four more deaths from the virus were reported Tuesday morning, while another 172 new cases were reported. An outbreak at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham has grown to include 122 inmates and nine staff members. Overall, there are 1,800 active cases here compared with a spring peak under 700.

While Maine still maintains the second-lowest per-capita rate of cases among states, according to The New York Times, the spike is concerning going into the fall. Hospitalizations have also skyrocketed in recent weeks. As of Monday, there were 49 Mainers hospitalized with the virus, up from only 13 two weeks previously. Unlike the outbreak in the spring, where widespread transmission was largely confined to urban centers in southern Maine, new cases were reported Tuesday in every county except for Aroostook and Piscataquis.

State officials have encouraged mask-wearing and other precautionary measures but have not put forward additional economic restrictions beyond Gov. Janet Mills’ order last week requiring face coverings in all public settings since the summer.

Meanwhile, institutions and businesses are closing or going remote as cases emerge. Maine’s colleges and universities, which had kept their numbers low so far, are also seeing cases rise. Three schools in the University of Maine System and Bangor High School shifted to remote learning last week after seeing instances of the virus. In Bar Harbor, eight businesses closed down after employees tested positive for the virus or interacted with sick people.

Although in-person visits have been suspended, cases in the prison system have been on the rise. The Windham Correctional Center now has the biggest prison outbreak in the state with 131 linked cases. Prison populations are still down from the beginning of the year, but the state has yet to take the actions it did at the beginning of the outbreak to reduce populations again.

There was positive news on the virus fight Monday, but its effects will not be immediate. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer said in a release that a vaccine it developed to fight the virus could be 90 percent effective, and the company plans to apply for emergency use authorization later this month. The company has not yet released data from trials, which have to be reviewed by independent scientists before emergency authorization is granted. 

Maine is preparing for distribution, though the Pfizer vaccine prevents logistical challenges because it requires ultra-cold storage, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Monday. The vaccine requires two doses administered weeks apart.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Joe Biden’s ties to Maine politicians helped set his course to the presidency,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “‘You can trace Biden’s interest in climate change back to those days with Ed Muskie,’ said Charlie Micoleau, a former chief of staff for Muskie in the early 1970s.

The two senators worked together on what is now known as the Senate environmental committee. Muskie was credited by Biden as being part of the reason he entered the Senate after his wife and daughter were killed after his election in 1972. The legendary senator, who wrote the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, took a young Biden under his wing on the environmental committee.

— “Susan Collins joins small group of Republicans in congratulating Joe Biden on victory,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Monday congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his victory, joining a handful of other Republicans who have acknowledged the Democratic nominee’s victory over President Donald Trump, who continues to deny the result.”

— “Maine can’t effectively track bills, performance in indigent legal defense system, report finds,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “A state agency charged with providing legal defense to indigent Mainers does not effectively communicate how attorneys should bill for work and cannot effectively monitor billing or performance, according to a watchdog report released Monday.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...