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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t want to be dramatic,” said Courtney Sanders, who runs Daily Soup in Belfast, reacting to the news of Maine’s first presumed positive case of coronavirus on Thursday. “I’ve been afraid of coronavirus for weeks, but I feel that it just hit today.”
What we’re watching today
With one confirmed case of the coronavirus in the state, Maine is at a critical juncture to react. As Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah put it yesterday during a press conference, the idea is to “prepare, not panic.” Maine has been working on that for months, but with 86 people tested as of yesterday — just last week, the number tested was around 20 — it seems likely that more cases will be found in short order.
The state is acknowledging that with measures meant to slow the spread of the virus, though it has not taken as drastic steps as some other states. On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills recommended shuttering gatherings with more than 250 people, and a smattering of events across the state have already been canceled. The Maine Legislature has also canceled some events, and some local businesses have expressed concern about losing customers as Mainers begin to practice “social distancing.” Most of the state’s colleges and universities have chosen to shut down, though K-12 schools are still open.
It’s unlikely these are the last impacts we’ll see and we’re expecting to learn more today about the state’s first case. The Maine CDC is giving daily updates on the virus and will announce any subsequent cases. On Thursday, Maine officials announced that the first state resident — a Navy reservist in her 50s from Androscoggin County — tested positive for the virus. Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said she had been traveling on a Navy mission to a country where the virus is widespread. It’s unclear how many others she was traveling with, but the Navy said personnel who contacted her are self-isolating. We may learn more today.
Maine’s federal delegation is taking notice. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, will be meeting with Maine health care officials in Augusta today as the Senate will likely take up a coronavirus spending package when it returns next week. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, held a tele-town hall last night with Shah to answer constituent questions. Sen. Angus King, an independent, shifted his Washington office to telework on Thursday but will continue working in Washington and keep Maine offices open.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Farmington nonprofit, contractor face federal fines linked to fatal September blast,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined LEAP, Inc., $12,145 for one violation of ‘general safety and health provisions,’ according to the agency’s website. Techno Metal Post Maine, LLC, a Manchester company that installed a post that pierced an underground propane line and caused the leak, faces a $4,048 fine for a similar violation.”
— “Industry wins some, loses some in changes to medical marijuana reform bill,” Penelope Overton, Portland Press Herald: “At the urging of caregivers, state lawmakers have stripped a department-sponsored medical marijuana reform bill of provisions to ban small extraction labs, require federal background checks, limit plant size and institute fines for willful violations.”
— “Maine school district asks court to dismiss lawsuit alleging sexual harassment,” Lauren Abbate, BDN: “An attorney for the school district is asking that the lawsuit against the district and Medomak Valley High School be dismissed, because no one with the authority to act on the allegations — aside from [former principal Andrew] Cavanaugh — knew of the alleged sexual harassment until the fall of 2017, when he was put on administrative leave prior to his resignation..”
Legislative sentiments will be a casualty of the coronavirus
Part of the Legislature’s response to the coronavirus will be speeding up work by delaying ceremonial activities. The Maine Legislature announced only small adjustments to their work on Thursday as a result of the new coronavirus, including closing galleries where the public can view floor sessions, canceling tours and delaying certain State House events, though lawmakers are expected to stay in Augusta through a scheduled April 15 adjournment date.
One of the other steps taken by legislative leaders was indefinitely postponing legislative sentiments — or the ceremonial resolutions that celebrate high-school sports teams, business owners or anniversaries of prominent citizens that can take up a lot of time on the floor. Here’s your soundtrack.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.