Good morning from Augusta. Education Commissioner Pender Makin will be in front of the Legislature’s education panel at 9 a.m. to testify on Gov. Janet Mills’ state budget change package. Listen here. Five other committees will meet to discuss the budget today as well.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I felt like we really needed to [reinforce] that as long as we feel like we’re doing all we can, things will improve,” said Auburn Fire Chief Robert Chase, who is leading the city’s COVID-19 response, as the Lewiston-Auburn area has continued to see higher-than-average cases. “I don’t know exactly what to attribute the rise in cases to, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort from people trying to get others vaccinated.”
What we’re watching today
Today’s lifting of Maine’s mask mandate for fully vaccinated people marks another milestone in the state’s coronavirus pandemic efforts. The change is a dramatic one, and here’s what you need to know about what it means for your daily life. Mills’ decision to mirror U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines is notable because masks have become the de facto symbol of the pandemic and have proved to be an integral part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus.
READ MORE ON RELAXED MASK MANDATE
There are a number of practical changes for businesses and people, too. The state has officially phased out its COVID-19 checklists for businesses in favor of guidance from the U.S CDC. That means retail stores are no longer subject to capacity limits and restaurants no longer have to space tables 6 feet apart or ask customers for contact tracing information, among other changes. Many businesses, however, are expected to keep some rules in place for now.
There are still policies in place related to the virus that will probably stick around for a while longer. In accordance with federal guidelines, face coverings are still required for everyone at health care facilities as well as on airplanes and other forms of public transit.
The Maine Department of Education’s rules for schools remain in place, as children younger than 12 are unlikely to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines before fall. The state has loosened restrictions at schools slightly, no longer requiring students to wear face coverings outdoors, though students and staff are still required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Additional restrictions may be lifted pending schools’ participation in a testing program.
It is likely Mills’ state of emergency will also continue. Only three governors have voluntarily decided to let their emergency declarations expire, according to the National Academy of Health Policy, while two were ended by court decisions. Efforts to curb those powers through the Legislature have failed so far as majority Democrats argue the status is important to maintaining certain federal funding. The current order ends June 15.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Unvaccinated children’s parents aren’t relieved about the end of Maine’s mask mandate,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “About 53 percent of Mainers aged 16 and older are no longer required to wear face coverings indoors as of Monday, as they received their final vaccine dose at least two weeks ago, in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But what share of unvaccinated adults will continue to use face coverings is unclear, as the state has indicated businesses are not required to enforce mask rules.”
More than half of Mainers should still be wearing masks indoors. Just shy of 594,000 people — about 44 percent of the state’s population — qualify as fully vaccinated, according to state data. That means it has been at least two weeks since their final vaccine dose. Find answers to your questions about children and COVID-19 risk this summer here.
The state of Maine is requiring its employees to continue wearing masks as the requirement lifts for vaccinated people today. Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa cited safety concerns and uncertainty of how many of its employees are fully vaccinated in an email. The requirement might change on July 7 if the majority of employees get shots.
— Fact check: Susan Collins misrepresents the Capitol riot commission,” The Associated Press: “On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, suggested that a roadblock to gaining GOP support is the commission’s timing, echoing concerns from Republican leaders last week that the panel’s final report could extend into the 2022 midterms. That’s not the case.”
— “Maine construction jobs reach pre-pandemic levels, but challenges remain for hard-hit sectors,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Segments hit harder by the pandemic such as hospitality are recovering more slowly, but gained ground in April. Accommodation and food services jobs reached 48,500 in April as the state’s economy began to reopen. But that’s below the 58,600 jobs in that industry in March 2020.”
The state is bringing back full work search requirements this week for unemployed people. Maine had used a partial work search requirement for most of the pandemic, requiring people receiving unemployment benefits to look for a job or engage in one of several skill-building activities. As vaccinations have become widespread, the state is shifting back to the pre-pandemic work search, which requires people receiving unemployment to apply to jobs every week.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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.
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