People leave a vaccine clinic during a winter snow storm, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in South Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I go out and say, ‘Come on, Biny. Come get your breakfast!’” said Warren resident Shelley Martin, on a leucistic songbird that has begun visiting her backyard bird feeder. “It’s become an obsession. I was worried, but I think he’ll make it through the winter.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine is getting more strict about its vaccination program two months after it started administering doses. The beginning of the program was relatively simple: vaccinate most vulnerable health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff, with providers given a few categories to prioritize but largely left to decide which staff should get shots first. The tone has changed since Maine expanded eligibility to residents over 70 years old. 

A few incidents illustrated the ethical pitfalls and challenges providers face in immunizing a population desperate for the vaccine. Attorney General Aaron Frey warned providers they could lose their ability to distribute after two hospitals’ use of vaccines led to criticism. The next day, a Mexico ambulance service was warned it could lose its license if it gave doses two days from expiring to school employees who are so far ineligible, the Rumford Falls Times reported.

Those warnings come with more and more guidelines for providers. The state will be rolling out a performance system to determine if providers are efficiently doling out doses. While those so-far-unannounced metrics could be used to help improve clinics, the state could also choose to send vaccines elsewhere. Public health officials are also discouraging providers from keeping pre-registration lists, even as some hospitals say it helps them plan for future phases and are still doing it nearly two weeks after being nudged not to.

It shows how wary Maine is of being seen as using its limited supply incorrectly. Other states have faced criticism for strict requirements some say have hampered the ability to get as many shots into arms as possible. New York opened up eligibility for first responders, teachers and those over 75 years old after vaccines went unclaimed among health care workers. Virginia distribution slowed down in part because providers did not know how to check for eligibility. Maryland has seen wide gaps in distribution efficacy across counties, with some state hospitals using between 30 to 92 percent of their allotted doses in early January.

Maine has been quicker at vaccinating than most states, with 14 percent of the population receiving at least one dose, according to Bloomberg News’ tracker. Only five states have reached more of their residents. But performance bears watching under these new sets of rules.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine sees fewest COVID-19 hospitalizations since November,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The continued decline in hospitalizations comes as new virus cases have dropped by three-quarters after a mid-January peak. The national vaccination campaign has also accelerated, with the weekly number of first doses administered in Maine up about 70 percent compared to a month ago.”

— “Calvary Chapel renews challenge of Mills’ religious gathering limits after Supreme Court ruling,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “While Calvary Chapel has loudly opposed [Gov. Janet] Mills’ restrictions on indoor gatherings throughout the pandemic, the church’s renewed fight against them comes as the Catholic Church has become more vocal in its objections to the limits on indoor worshiping.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland remains unhappy with the governor’s revised order on capacity for houses of worship. Mills tweaked the gathering limits last week, allowing for either five people per 1,000 square feet or 50 people, whichever is greater, to gather indoors. Previously, capacity was capped at 50 people regardless of size. The diocese argued that only a small fraction of Catholic churches would be affected by the change, and has asked the governor to allow them to operate at 25 percent capacity.

— “More Mainers died from drug overdoses in January than in any month over the past year,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “The rise in deaths in 2020 reflects both the continuation of the yearslong, deadly opioid epidemic fueled by the rise of fentanyl, as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which overdose deaths have accelerated nationwide as the pandemic has disrupted daily life, isolated people from their social contacts and put many people out of jobs.”

New report: Maine will need more renewables after 2026

Maine is on track to meet renewable standards through 2026, but more development is needed afterward, according to a report for the governor’s energy office. The report, which was released this week, examines options to meet a state goal of getting 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030, a precursor to the grid going fully renewable by 2050. 

Both standards were signed into law by Mills in 2019. The state can meet its goals through 2026, the report concludes. After that, it will require a range of developments between 800 megawatts and 900 megawatts by 2030. That’s a lot. Maine’s energy regulator approved term sheets for one set of new solar and wind projects adding up to 500 megawatts last year.

Transmission corridors are crowded and transmission upgrades would be needed to unlock the full potential of onshore wind and solar, according to the report. At the same time, regional coordination and energy storage could help the state meet its goals by then. The path is full of tradeoffs and action is necessary soon to lay the groundwork.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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.

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...