Oct. 21—Good morning from Augusta. There are 12 days until the Nov. 2 referendum election.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It has to be [on] my list, one of the worst led meetings in terms of ability to discuss an item, to get accurate information, to glean the information, to review the information and come up with substantive decisions rather than shooting from the hip. Because that's what it feels like," said Camden Select Board Chair Bob Falciani after Knox County commissioners voted to bar public comment at their most recent public meeting about use of COVID-19 relief funds.
What we're watching today
Maine is entering another phase of its COVID-19 vaccination push as new cases of the virus remain steady but high. While the more than 68,000 Mainers who have received booster doses have pushed up the state's vaccine administration numbers in recent weeks, the number of Mainers getting first doses has remained low, with an average of around 1,000 people getting newly vaccinated each day over the past month.
That could change in the next few weeks as the state prepares for the long-awaited approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year olds, which could shift how schools operate after a federal advisory panel meets in early November. Hospitals, pediatric offices and school health clinics will likely be the focal point for shots as public health officials once again prepare to roll out doses for another age group. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah says the process should be smoother, as the state has finally solved storage and supply problems.
The number of cases among this population is likely relatively small — only 20 percent of cases in Maine have occurred in people under 20, according to Maine CDC data — although the state has seen higher case rates among young people this fall than at any other time of the pandemic and schools have been challenged this year as outbreaks continue to disrupt in-person learning for many districts.
Providing shots to younger students will likely provide some stability there as more school staff get their shots, although it remains to be seen how many parents are willing to get their children vaccinated. National polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation in September found only one third of parents with children between the ages of 5 and 11 planned for them to get the vaccine straight away, although the share will likely be higher in Maine, which has higher-than-average vaccination rates among teens and the general population.
The next stage of vaccinations comes as the state's efforts to require vaccinations for certain workers approaches its deadline. Courts at various levels have so far rejected challenges to Gov. Janet Mills' vaccine requirement for health care workers, although the plaintiffs challenging the requirement in federal court have already appealed to the Supreme Court. Despite calls from Republicans, some Democrats and some health care facilities, Mills has held firm and declined to provide an alternative to getting the vaccine aside from a medical exemption.
That policy has led to high, but uneven, vaccination rates across sectors required to get the vaccine. Among the most vaccinated are Maine's EMS workers, at nearly 97 percent. But like many industries, a difficulty in finding workers will likely stretch some rural departments already operating with limited employees. An Oct. 29 deadline will put the mandate to the real test, although Mills is allowing employers to hire people who have at least one shot provided they wear protective gear — leaving the door open for workers who change their minds.
The Maine politics top 3
— "See the $300M in Maine projects moving forward in Senate earmark process," Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: "The Senate Appropriations Committee released its remaining 2022 funding bills earlier this week after months of negotiations. Although not all the projects requested by Maine lawmakers made it into the final legislation, a new fire station for the town of Rumford, rail improvements in northern Maine and a child care center in Bath are among those to get funding if Congress passes 12 spending bills as currently drafted."
— "Student journalists became the story in a fraught Bates College union drive," Caitlin Andrews, BDN: "The organizing push has already attracted attention after simmering for over a year at Bates. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Bates alumnus and Democrat from Lewiston representing the 2nd Congressional District, has thrown his support behind the effort and asked the college to not interfere. Students demonstrated in early October during a meeting in which college management asked a lawyer about staff protections and how to abide by labor laws."
— "Bangor referendums aimed at making future ballots more accessible for the visually impaired," David Marino Jr., BDN: "The changes come after a lawsuit last year accused Maine of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Maine Human Rights Act because it had not offered visually impaired people people a safe and private way to vote during the pandemic. Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin and those from other municipalities, including Augusta and Portland, were defendants in that suit."
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.