Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What happened on Jan. 6 really wasn’t surprising, because these people had been told, over and over, something valuable had been stolen from them. They couldn’t trust the press, they couldn’t trust the media, they couldn’t trust the politicians, they couldn’t trust the judges. What’s left?” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a TV appearance discussing the second day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
What we’re watching today
Maine rescinded COVID-19 vaccine priority for ski patrol as it faces questions about who will get doses next. The state allowed ski patrol members to get vaccines last week, said Dirk Gouwens, the executive director of the Ski Maine Association. The group reached out to the state in December to request priority for the group and worked with the state’s economic development department since then to get it.
But on Wednesday, Gouwens said he received a call from the state informing him patrol members would no longer get priority. Some patrol workers had already gotten vaccines from local hospitals prior to the authorization and those who have gotten first doses will be allowed to get their second shots, he said.
He said he was not told why the decision was made. It comes after Maine has been criticized by a wide group of interests for lack of clarity on how it is making vaccine priority decisions, which the state has said are made by Gov. Janet Mills on recommendations from health officials.
Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the Maine Emergency Medical Services agency told Ski Maine that patrollers who are residents, have a national certification and are actively working would have been eligible. But after consulting with Mills, that decision was reversed until further notice “given both the relatively lower-risk of transmission among ski patrol and the limited supply of vaccine.”
He was not aware of any ski patrol members getting sick because of their job, but he said the danger was still present as the ski season begins in earnest. First responders such as police, fire and EMS are currently eligible for the vaccine under the state’s plan.
The subject of who is getting doses is becoming more tense. Maine says its strategy for vaccine distribution is geared toward protecting people most at risk with a limited amount of doses nationwide. State officials, facing pressure to get doses out as quickly as possible, have been critical of institutions that appear to give them out inequitably.
Mills slammed MaineHealth’s decision to vaccinate non-patient facing employees and consultants brought in to tamper a nurse unionizing effort. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said MaineGeneral’s decision to give doses to donors over 70 as part of a trial run of its vaccine clinic risked the “perception of inequity.”
The Maine politics top 3
— “More contagious UK coronavirus variant confirmed in Maine,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Maine has been sending a fraction of positive virus samples to be tested for variants of the virus for several months amid concern about more transmissible strains from other countries. The U.K. variant was detected in a sample from a Franklin County resident who had a recent history of international travel and developed virus symptoms in early February, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”
A Bangor site can now vaccinate up to 3,000 people per day — though it doesn’t have that many vaccines for now. Northern Light Health is increasing the capacity of its vaccination site at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor by 50 percent this weekend. Health officials hope to eventually expand it to vaccinate 5,000 people per day, six days a week. But for now, the site will only be offering vaccines to up to 1,200 people, three days a week, as supply remains the biggest constraint.
— “New deal between Healthy Acadia, Hancock County sheriff calls for ‘mutual respect’,” Bill Trotter, BDN: “The agreement restores an arrangement that Sheriff Scott Kane terminated last summer after he took offense at a public statement Healthy Acadia issued in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has described as an anti-law enforcement group that has called for violence against police officers. Black Lives Matter leaders have said they oppose all forms of violence.”
— “Department of Education kills Valley Unified regional school project in Aroostook,” Jessica Potila, St. John Valley Times: “The St. John Valley school is one of two the Maine Department of Education had approved for funding in its pilot project to help neighboring smaller schools deal with declining enrollment and high costs. The state has already notified the other one, which was in southern Aroostook, that its project would not go forward. The state has shifted those funds to a proposed regional school project in Piscataquis County.”
Report again shows Maine state employees make less than counterparts
The report will likely become a bargaining chip as unions and the state renegotiate this year. A November study by The Segal Group looked at data for public employees in Maine’s biggest cities and neighboring states to determine how competitive the state’s pay is for a wide range of jobs. It found Maine’s midpoint pay range is, on average, 85 percent of its counterpart jobs’ wages. The conclusion was similar to that of another state study in 2009.
The biggest state employee union, the Maine Service Employees Association, has a contract up this year. Negotiations could be tense, as the pandemic-induced shortfall has put Maine’s budget on a tight leash. The union also filed a complaint with Maine’s labor board after they say the state failed to provide information about which employees have gotten sick with the coronavirus. It is also grieving a state decision to end hazard pay for many employees after federal funds for that benefit ended late last year.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. 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.
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