James Jarvis, senior physician executive of Northern Light Health's COVID-19 response, gives a tour of the new vaccine clinic at the Cross Insurance Center on Feb. 1. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Mainers aged 16 and older are eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines beginning next Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know if you’re still looking for appointments, which filled quickly across the state yesterday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “At first, I guess he thought it was a pile of clothes in the road,” said Jason Blake, 48, of Swanville, who is recovering after a hit-and-run accident just over a month ago. “Then he realized it was an actual person.”

What we’re watching today

Maine has reported the highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since early February in consecutive days as the state extends vaccine eligibility to all adults. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 401 cases on Friday, an increase from 283 cases on Thursday, which was itself the highest single-day increase in cases since Feb. 4. 

The rise comes as Maine announced it would extend vaccine eligibility to all adults 16 and older next week, nearly a month earlier than the state had previously planned. The rollout to younger Mainers comes as about 80 percent of Mainers 70 and older have received at least one dose, as have roughly two-thirds of people in their 60s and nearly 40 percent of those in their 50s.

Neither trend is unique to Maine. Vaccine rollout has continued to accelerate across the country, with Maine set to join two dozen other states in extending eligibility to all adults. At the same time, case levels have ticked back up nationally as well, increasing by 20 percent over the past two weeks, according to the New York Times

The Northeast is particularly hard-hit. Every state between here and Pennsylvania — including Maine and other states that weathered the early part of the pandemic relatively well — is seeing an uptick in cases right now. Case levels in Maine still remain well below their January high, when the seven-day average of new cases peaked at 623. But the seven-day average of new cases here still sits at 252, up from 172 a month ago.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah characterized the reason for the increase as “one of the various $64,000 questions,” during a Thursday press conference, attributing it primarily to the spread of new variants — several of which are both more contagious and more deadly — as well as increased travel as people have begun to let their guard down amid the vaccine rollout. Rapid vaccine expansion cannot come soon enough.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Joe Biden plan would kickstart effort to find and replace Maine’s old lead water pipes,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “[President Joe Biden’s] plan, which he hopes will be approved by Congress by summer, is short on details about how the money is to be used and how much would come to Maine. But the state has some of the oldest infrastructure and housing stock in the nation. Both the state and water executives expect the money, along with proposed updates to a federal lead and copper rule, to kickstart Maine’s efforts to find out where lead problems lie and fix them.”

Maine’s Republican senator fears the corporate tax hike proposed to pay for the infrastructure plan would drive companies out of the country. Biden has proposed a corporate income tax hike from 21 percent to 28 percent, which is opposed by Republicans who lowered that tax under President Donald Trump. The idea is opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republicans while it ties the corporate lobby into knots amid wide support for infrastructure investment. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told News Center Maine that while she also supports investment, she is worried about the size of Biden’s $2 trillion plan and fears the tax hike will “cause companies, once again, to locate jobs and plants overseas.”

— “After years of scrapped plans, Rockland has ‘cautious optimism’ that Amtrak will return,” Lauren Abbate, BDN: “Excitement has been generated in the city in recent years by other plans to extend the Downeaster to Rockland for summer weekend service. While those plans have fallen through, folks are hopeful that this most recent sign of interest from Amtrak will finally bring rail service back to the city.” Here’s your soundtrack.

— “Video exonerates Portland activist accused of brandishing gun during protest against police violence,” Charlie Eichacker, Maine Public: “[Defense attorney Tina] Nadeau said that the case demonstrates the importance of activists recording their interactions with police — a lesson that she said is reinforced by the ongoing trial of a Minneapolis officer who was videotaped killing George Floyd last spring, setting off many of the protests last spring and summer.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. 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

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...