The vaccine stations at the Cross Insurance Center are pictured on Feb. 1. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There were trucks with chicken feathers blowing out the back. Stores on Main Street with weird smells in them,” said Douglas Coffin, 72, recalling the city of Belfast when he first moved there in the 1970s. “Belfast did not get here overnight. It evolved slowly. It still is evolving.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine is starting to see more large-scale vaccination clinics, although it could be some time before their potential is fully realized. Portland-based MaineHealth is due to open its new clinic at the former Scarborough Downs racetrack today — a 30,000-square foot clinic the hospital now says can vaccinate up to 2,000 a day. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said another mass site in Sanford is being considered.

But officials say the Scarborough clinic will only be vaccinating between 350 to 500 people per day to start as vaccine supply remains flat. The same scenario will likely play out at Northern Light Health, which opened a vaccination site at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor this week. The clinic administered 769 vaccines there Tuesday despite the snowstorm at a site capable of administering up to 2,200 vaccines per day, with supply as the major constraint.

Maine saw a 16 percent bump in vaccine doses allocated this week and that will rise 5 percent next week, the state said on Tuesday. But the two big hospitals systems saw a flat increase to their big locations closest to the clinics as the state looked to spread that increase out among outpatient providers, public safety groups and organizations vaccinating people in long-term care facilities not affiliated with the federal pharmacy partnership. As of Tuesday, the state has administered just over 158,000 doses in total.

Vaccine shortages have delayed small-scale clinics too. Down East Community Hospital in Machias rolled out a vaccine registration page on its website a few days ago for Mainers age 70 and up. But it has not opened for signups yet after not receiving any doses Monday or Tuesday. The clinic would be the first to open to the public in isolated Washington County.

Maine’s COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization are on the decline, but a new virus variant could upset the delicate situation. Even with metrics headed in the right direction, the widespread circulation of the coronavirus makes the state more vulnerable to sudden increases. The cool weather and new, more contagious strains of the virus — at least three have been identified in travelers from Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom — could also cause problems, although those new viral types have yet to be discovered in Maine.

The Maine politics top 3

— “5 highlights from the BDN’s interview with Susan Collins about COVID-19 aid,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “It casts more doubt on the Maine senator’s effort to inject her party into a deal. She was critical of the Democrats’ move in a Tuesday interview with the Bangor Daily News, though she did not rule out voting for a larger package than Republicans suggested and indicated some of her priority items as she looks to affect the end bill.”

If Democrats stick together, the Maine senator has a few options to get items into the final bill. Democrats, who have slim majorities in the Senate and House, stuck together in the upper chamber on Tuesday to move their budget vehicle forward. The $1.9 trillion proposal floated by President Joe Biden is not likely to survive in its current form. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is not worried about the cost, but he does not support a $15 minimum wage increase that the president included in the proposal. If some version of Biden’s proposal moves forward this way, amendments can be offered. Collins said Tuesday that she was discussing more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program with the White House, but also wants a better accounting of unspent stimulus money.

— “Nirav Shah criticizes Augusta hospital for giving early vaccine doses to donors,” Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “MaineGeneral said its first clinic was designed to test its registration and other processes ahead of a wider rollout to newly eligible people 70 and older that will begin on Wednesday. It picked a test group of 40 people that included retired staff, patients and community members, later adding 20 people who called the registration line on Friday, a spokesperson said.”

The Maine CDC director will brief a legislative committee on Wednesday. Shah will make his first appearance in the 2021 session before the Legislature’s health committee today at 11 a.m. You can watch it here.

— “US-Canada border agencies crack down on gun smuggling in wake of deadly mass shooting,” Alexander MacDougall, Houlton Pioneer Times: “The number of firearms seized at the border remained consistent from [the period] prior to the funding for the initiative, according to CBSA data. For the 2017-18 year, CBSA seized 751 illegal firearms at the U.S.-Canada border. That number dropped to 696 the next year, the first year of the initiative, before rising again to 753. The CBSA also seized 166 firearms for the first quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal year, before the border closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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...