QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re prepared to ask for proof, and expect that we probably will be in the coming weeks, depending where numbers go,” said Andrew Volk, owner of the Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland, one of several restaurants that will require customers to be vaccinated to dine indoors. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The areas where coronavirus vaccinations will be required are growing absent government mandates. There is no firm timeline for when COVID-19 vaccines will be granted full approval, a process that entails a more thorough vetting process than the emergency approval process that allowed the vaccines to be distributed. Certain sectors are taking different approaches without government mandates in the interim as cases begin to rise amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant.
Northern Light Health, which runs Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and nine other hospitals across the state, will require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it gets full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the hospital system announced Monday. It is the second provider to announce such a requirement, after Millinocket Regional Hospital last week.
Hospital employees make up the largest number of workers the state is tracking for vaccination rates, but they are also the second-most vaccinated group. Lagging further behind are those who provide intermediate care for individuals with intellectual disabilities, with 34 percent unvaccinated, and those who work in nursing homes, at 29 percent unvaccinated.
The Maine Health Care Association, a group representing nursing homes, said last week that it would back facilities that required employees to get the shot. Virus outbreaks at long-term care facilities have been among the most deadly in Maine throughout the pandemic. But nursing homes have also long struggled with staffing shortages in Maine, prompting concerns that a vaccine mandate could push out much-needed employees who oppose the shot.
A government mandate might not be as unpopular as some would think, though Maine officials have given little indication they are considering one. A poll conducted in June and July from researchers at four universities, found that nearly 66 percent of Mainers would “somewhat” or “strongly” back a government mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine. That result somewhat aligns with a March 2020 referendum on mandatory vaccinations for public school children, which passed with 73 percent support amid strong turnout from Democrats.
But for now, it will fall to large employers and individual businesses to implement mandates unless the virus situation worsens. Gov. Janet Mills gave up her emergency power at the end of June and cannot issue mandates, and it would be politically tricky to declare another emergency at this point.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Hospitals see more vaccinated Mainers with COVID-19, but cases are rare,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “It’s an example of the challenges posed by the rising delta variant, but vaccines are still proving virtually 100 percent effective at preventing serious cases. The 29 Mainers hospitalized to date with breakthrough cases only account for 1 in every 30,000 of inoculated people here. Not accounting for age differences, unvaccinated people are still more than five times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine right now compared with vaccinated people.”
Maine may be moving away from federal public health officials’ confusing mask recommendations. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said in a Maine Public interview that the state is considering if the community transmission metrics his agency’s federal counterparts are using to recommend facial coverings makes sense for Maine. The state’s small population means a few cases can cause counties’ risk levels to swing.
— “Maine regulator rebuffs lawmakers’ complaints around corridor tree-cutting,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim wrote lawmakers that there is no evidence at this time that the cutting around the New England Clean Energy Connect project violates or warrants a suspension of the department’s license. She said the department will continue to monitor corridor construction activities.”
— “Supreme Court declines to hear Orrington church’s attack on COVID-19 restrictions,” The Associated Press: “The injunction was important because the Supreme Court won’t be meeting until late September to consider cases that will be heard in the coming year, according to Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which is representing Calvary Chapel.”
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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