In this March 2, 2021, file photo, a pharmacy technician loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If we could pull all these things together, along with some sort of campaign to let people to know — people who are non-residents, driving through — and residents, of course, as well, they should be aware they’re likely to meet a horse-and-buggy at some point,” Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett said of the risk of hitting Amish horse-and-buggy drivers after five crashes this year alone.

What we’re watching today

Four out of five Maine adults have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but cases are still rising with the spread of the delta variant. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported another 360 virus cases Tuesday morning, reflecting infections from the past three days. It comes after daily infections fell into the teens just over a month ago.

Unvaccinated people continue to make up the vast majority of virus cases, both in Maine and nationwide. That the virus is still able to accelerate here despite Maine’s high vaccination rate reflects just how transmissible the delta variant is. All but three Maine counties are now over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended mask-wearing threshold, according to the latest state data.

Hospitalizations, an indicator of how many people are severely sick from the virus, are still far below where they were in the winter but have increased by over a third in the past month to 47. Those hospitalizations are scattered across the state: Northern Light Health, which serves eastern and northern Maine as well as Mercy Hospital in Portland, had only 11 people hospitalized with the virus as of Monday across its system. 

But Maine Medical Center in Portland had that many people sick with the virus as of last week, the most recent data available. The amount of people sick with the virus is not stressing capacity, spokesperson John Porter said, but the hospital changed its adult visitation policy to one person per day on Monday as Cumberland County fell under mask guidelines.

The number of Mainers newly getting the COVID-19 vaccine has ticked up over the past few weeks, with the seven-day average of new first doses rising from around 700 in mid-July to nearly 1,200 as of Monday, according to federal data. That rise reflects national trends toward increased vaccinations due to spread of the delta variant, but the rate is still far slower than the spring, when vaccines first became available to the general population here.

The Maine politics top 3

— “New bipartisan infrastructure bill expected to bring another $2B to Maine,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to expand broadband access nationwide. Maine will receive $100 million to start, with more expected next year after the Federal Communications Commission finalizes new broadband maps to determine which communities are underserved. That comes on top of the nearly $150 million that Maine is putting toward broadband from a Democratic-led stimulus package that passed earlier this year.”

A vote on the bill’s final passage is planned for 11 a.m. Exactly how many votes it might get is unclear still, but there is little doubt that more than 10 Republicans will join with all Senate Democrats to advance the bill. It will then go to the U.S. House, but lawmakers there might not take it up until September. Senate Democrats will now turn their work to a proposed budget bill that is expected to ring in at more than triple the cost of this one.

— “Janet Mills’ hiring of veteran energy lawyer praised by top utility critic,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “William Harwood, currently at Verrill Dana, has more than 30 years of experience representing utilities before state and federal regulatory agencies, including more than 50 cases before the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He has handled rate cases, management audits, merger approvals, permit requests and rulemaking proceedings.”

The move comes as Maine’s utility regulations are the subject of heavy debate. Harwood will be running point for Gov. Janet Mills on cases before the utilities commission, the agency at the heart of the most sweeping proposals to reorganize Maine’s utilities. That includes a possible referendum on a consumer-owned utility proposal vetoed by the governor this year. Citing delays by large electric utilities, solar interests wrote to the commission last week to ask it to oversee connections to the grid, the Portland Press Herald reported. Mills is also readying a nominee to replace Public Advocate Barry Hobbins as the state’s chief ratepayer advocate. 

— “Out-of-state travelers flock to northern Maine as Canadian border reopens,” Alexander MacDougall, BDN: “In order to cross, U.S. citizens will need to download the ArriveCAN app to fill out information regarding their vaccination status and when they intend to arrive at the border. In addition to taking a negative COVID-19 test before entering, travelers are also subject to another self-administered test at the border, which can lead to longer wait times when entering.”

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.

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...