In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, New York. Credit: Hans Pennink / AP

Good morning from Augusta. There are 15 days until the new Maine Legislature convenes.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Oh my God, I cried and I cried — I was in a panic,” said Paryse Michaud, whose dog, Diamond, escaped from her home in Clair, New Brunswick, and crossed the International Bridge to Fort Kent. “I was walking like crazy in the hotel room having my phone in my hand and praying that someone can find my dog.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Optimistic news on a coronavirus vaccine keeps coming, but Maine could see barriers to wide distribution when a vaccine is approved. State officials are hoping for additional federal aid to help offset the costs of coordinating, storing and administering a vaccine. So far, Maine has received about $800,000, though the federal government has promised more funding in December.

Complicating matters is that both vaccines that have shown promise so far — one produced by Pfizer and one by Moderna, announced on Monday — require the administration of two shots several weeks apart, which complicates distribution in rural areas. The Pfizer vaccine must also be stored at an ultra-cold temperature, with only five Maine hospitals having the necessary equipment to do that.

While the timeline for approval of a vaccine remains up in the air, coronavirus cases in Maine are continuing to rise. The virus continues to spike across the state and country, with nearly 2,200 active cases as of Monday in Maine. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced 14 new outbreaks yesterday, including one at the state’s largest hospital as well as multiple schools and long-term care facilities. 

One worrying sign is that the outbreaks are only responsible for about 10 percent of new cases in Maine over the past three days, with the virus more commonly spreading at small, private gatherings that may not violate state regulations ahead of the holiday season.

The Maine politics top 3

— “The big changes eyed by 6 Democrats aiming to be Maine’s next top election official,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Each of the Democrats running for the position said they supported exploring an online voter registration system. Maine is among just 10 states not offering that now after lawsuit seeking to force that and other changes failed in October. The candidates differed sharply on how to increase public trust in the secretary of state position — which oversees voting, motor vehicle licensing, identification and other key functions — and what their main focuses would be.”

The candidates will participate in an online forum on Tuesday. A dozen Maine organizations are hosting a forum with the six Democrats — Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, former Rep. Tom Bull of Freeport and outgoing House Majority Leader Matt Moonen of Portland, Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco and Reps. Craig Hickman of Winthrop and Erik Jorgensen of Portland — at 5 p.m. today. You can register for the event here.

— “UMaine hires consultant to oversee retiree health plan switch that has drawn criticism,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “…retirees and union officials criticized the UMaine System for making the changes in September, in the middle of a pandemic, without bargaining or public discussion. Some retirees have said the switch will raise their health care costs, particularly for those with expensive health care needs.”

–”Bangor woman charged with threatening to kill, decapitate Susan Collins,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Katrina F. Preble, 56, has been charged with two counts of making interstate threats because the server that stores the voicemails is not located in Maine, according to the affidavit. Preble allegedly left a series of voicemails on the senator’s office phones in Bangor and Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6 and 11.”

Collins says she’d work with Biden on infrastructure, virus relief

In her first televised interview since her reelection, Maine’s senior senator said she was open to working with the Democratic president-elect. Collins, the only Republican senator to win a state also won by President-elect Joe Biden, told Fox News that rural broadband and another round of the Paycheck Protection Program were issues she hoped to work on with the former vice president, a longtime friend of the senator.

“I don’t think we should compromise on the far-left agenda that [Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders] and others are pushing,” Collins said. “But I do think there are ways to work together on everything from another COVID relief bill to deal with the health and economic consequences of the pandemic, to an infrastructure package, as I just mentioned, and also making the market more competitive for prescription drugs, to help bring down the price.”

Mills’ tribal affairs adviser leaving administration

The departure comes just days before a new legislative session begins. Gov. Janet Mills hired Donna Loring, a former Penobscot Nation police chief and tribal representative, in January 2019 as part of her administration’s efforts to shore up Maine’s strained relationships with its four federally-recognized tribes. Her administration announced Monday night Loring would be leaving her post to pursue “personal opportunities.”

The state has made notable changes to its tribal policies, including a bill granting the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy tribe jurisdiction over certain domestic violence crimes. But some disagreement remained over broader changes concerning tribal sovereignty, issues that may come up again next session.

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...