Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Ethics Commission will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss leadership PACs and a possible $150,000 straw donation from 2018. Follow along here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We just hope it brings some fun and enjoyment to the community, after what has been a really long and difficult year,” Tony Vail, director of the Cross Insurance Center, said of the decision to bring back a scaled-down version of the Bangor State Fair. “We’re doing the best we can to get back open, safely, and bring events back to the community. And this is just the start of that.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The U.S. is entering a new stage of the pandemic as understanding of the virus and vaccines evolves rapidly, but policy changes are unlikely to be as dramatic. Maine adopted U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines earlier this week, recommending that everyone, including vaccinated people, wear face coverings indoors in counties with significant virus transmission. For now, most Maine counties do not meet that designation, though that could change every day in part because of our small population.
The recommendation came as infections have surged in Maine and nationwide, though transmission remains lower than most of the country. But we are now getting a better understanding of how the virus, especially the new delta variant, spreads and how vaccines respond.
The news is good and bad. Vaccines are still incredibly effective in preventing severe illness and death, the new federal data suggest. They also still reduce transmission and near-universal vaccinations would probably be enough to stop the pandemic. But even vaccinated people can sometimes transmit the delta variant, the agency suggests, which is the rationale behind asking vaccinated people to wear masks in areas where the virus is prevalent.
The sudden change in understanding could be cause for confusion, as the U.S. CDC has not always been the best communicator throughout the pandemic. It is a tricky situation as health officials begin to acknowledge that vaccines are not as effective in preventing transmission as we might have hoped. They still remain the biggest single tool to stop the pandemic.
Republicans in campaign mode are raising the specter of mandates. State Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle, who is running for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, sent out a fundraising email falsely claiming masks were required indoors in Maine. Former Gov. Paul LePage wrote in a Facebook post after Gov. Janet Mills announced her policy change Wednesday that “mask requirements” would discourage people from getting vaccinated by sowing doubt about the shots’ efficacy. He ended the post by saying the country should “resist the urge for any government to require their citizens to hold or use a so-called vaccine passport.”
At this point, masking is a suggestion from federal and local health officials. Mills does not have the authority to require masking because she ended Maine’s state of emergency and seems loath to return there for now. Businesses can require masks or employees to be vaccinated.
While a few states have adopted vaccine verification systems, how they work varies. California’s option essentially provides a digital copy of your vaccine card. In Hawaii, people who show proof of vaccination do not have to quarantine or show a negative COVID-19 test. Some Maine institutions are planning to require vaccination at some point, but no statewide system has been publicly discussed.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s high court turns down bid to split CMP corridor referendum into separate questions,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “State Rep. Chris Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, a corridor proponent, challenged Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ decision to draft a single question for a challenge to the CMP corridor project that will be on the ballot this November. He argued the initiative contained three separate issues that should be split into three questions.”
— “Orrington church asks Supreme Court to stop Janet Mills from imposing new gathering limits and mask mandates,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “The church’s new petition asks the nation’s high court to impose an injunction preventing Mills from imposing new requirements while it decides whether to hear oral arguments in the underlying case. It is scheduled to consider whether to hear oral arguments in September, according to the petition.”
The state is opening up its rental assistance program before a federal moratorium on evictions expires. Rather than requiring applicants to prove their financial troubles were caused by the coronavirus pandemic, anyone who struggled financially during the crisis is now eligible. The Maine housing authority will also be funding two legal aid organizations to help tenants facing evictions.
— “Former Lincoln mill property eyed for biofuel development site,” Lia Russell, BDN: “Biofine Developments Northeast, a Maine-based subsidiary of the Massachusetts company Biofine Technology, uses a technology that uses waste wood products to produce ethyl levulinate, which it says is a carbon-neutral substitute for home heating oil.”
The project is another example of the kinds of mill repurposing efforts that have gained momentum in the last few years. The last decade has been a difficult one for Maine’s paper mills, with several closures. But the Old Town mill reopened under Chinese investment and the East Millinocket and Bucksport mill sites are now being redeveloped as a data center and a salmon farm, respectively. These projects are not expected to replace the jobs lost when the mills closed, but they are steps forward in these communities once anchored by the mills.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, 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.
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