Good morning from Augusta. A year ago today, the first coronavirus case was found in Maine. Here is our front page from that morning. Since then, 723 people have died with the virus.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Tomorrow marks one year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Maine, a year since we all began this long day’s journey into night, a year during which the unfathomable became the commonplace with frankly unnerving frequency,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Thursday as Maine prepared to mark the anniversary of the virus arriving here.
What we’re watching today
The timeline for getting enough vaccines to bring an end to the pandemic in the U.S. is clearer than ever, but the state has not yet changed its prioritization. The pace of vaccinations in Maine has continued to accelerate, with a record 17,561 doses reported on Thursday. The seven-day average of doses administered rose to 12,612, up from 7,157 four weeks earlier. So far, just over 1 in 5 Mainers have received at least one vaccine dose.
State and federal officials hope that pace will continue to pick up. In a Thursday speech, President Joe Biden directed states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1, with a goal of achieving a return to in-person gathering by the Fourth of July.
In Maine, that would mean a substantial ramp-up from the age-based plan Gov. Janet Mills announced in late February. People under 30 would not be eligible for vaccines until July under that plan, although the Democratic governor acknowledged then that the plan would speed up if vaccine allocations increased. In a Thursday statement, Mills said she welcomed the Biden administration’s help in speeding up vaccine distribution, making no promises.
“While the Biden Administration works day and night to increase the supply of vaccine, my Administration will work day and night to get shots into arms so that come May 1 every Maine person will be eligible,” she said.
Mills will likely follow Biden’s directive, as she did in allowing teachers of any age to receive vaccinations when the president ordered that earlier this month. But whether Maine will be able to extend vaccine eligibility to all adults depends entirely on supply over the next few months. So far, just over a third of Mainers in their 60s have received at least one vaccine dose after the state expanded eligibility on March 3.
Maine’s vaccine supply next week is increasing only slightly from this week, according to state data, as allocations of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine remain low. But Shah said Thursday that the state expects supply to increase “significantly” heading into April. Just how significant that increase is whether Maine can stay on track with its age-based plan and also make all adults eligible by the start of May.
The Maine politics top 3
— “More than 700 Mainers died from COVID-19 in the past year, leaving families grappling with loss,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “And, a year after Maine detected its first coronavirus case, the examples of other kinds of loss are countless. There was the toll on the health of the more than 46,000 who contracted COVID-19, the loss of more than 40,000 jobs and several months of in-person school instruction, the reduced ranks of out-of-state visitors who power Maine’s tourism economy, and the forgone time with family and friends given the risk that any social gathering could become a superspreader event. As the pandemic continued, Maine saw its highest number of drug overdose deaths on record, and the pandemic’s isolation took its toll on many people’s mental health.”
— “Maine Legislature inks budget deal as House GOP softens line on business tax cuts,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Lawmakers seemed exhausted after nearly two days of negotiating but in a more agreeable mood Friday morning after negotiating for two days. House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, thanked House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, for ‘continually keeping the lines of communications open’ and members for sticking with the budget until the early hours. House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, called the deal a ‘victory’ for bipartisanship.” Here’s your soundtrack.
Lawmakers went past midnight in a game of political chicken that effectively had to end. Minority Republicans who had been pushing for an $8.4 million tax break on foreign-derived income settled for a compromise measure that set nearly that much money aside in a reserve fund and a Democratic agreement to study the foreign-income issue. It came as many businesses face a Monday tax deadline and as the Legislature was being kicked out of the Augusta Civic Center so MaineGeneral Health could restart a vaccine clinic there on Friday. The deal was inked by leaders by 8:30 p.m., but procedural hurdles took hours to clear.
— “Susan Collins calls for immediate easing of US-Canada border restrictions,” Alexander MacDougall, BDN: “I believe that we could implement procedures, such as requiring proof of a recent negative test or vaccination, to begin safely loosening the restrictions, which would be beneficial to families, the economy and small businesses that rely on Canadian customers,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said.
A county committee rejected censuring Collins over her vote to convict the former president on an impeachment charge on Thursday. In what could be a precursor to a censure vote by the Maine Republican Party at a special meeting on Saturday, the Kennebec County Republican Committee voted 19-12 against a censure of Collins related to her February vote to convict President Donald Trump, according to county chair Helen Tutwiler. Grassroots anger at Collins has been palpable since the vote, but it was a potential sign that many Republicans may not want to fight this particular battle.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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 by emailing email@example.com.
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