Good morning from Augusta, where we’re seeing rain already and will see much more as Tropical Storm Elsa arrives in Maine today. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Shakespeare was written for the common folk, and people don’t understand that anymore, because it seems so arcane and removed to us now,” said Lamoine playwright Brent Hutchins, who has adapted scenes of the Bard’s to Maine places and vernacular. “Bringing it back to that original sentiment is a wicked fun thing to do.”
What we’re watching today
Maine manufacturers that were instrumental in producing tools to respond to COVID-19 are facing a drop in demand. Abbott Laboratories, which makes medical devices including COVID-19 test kits, is laying off more than 300 workers in Westbrook, the company confirmed yesterday. Meanwhile, Puritan Medical Products has furloughed 180 workers at one of its Pittsfield sites, which opened last year to make swabs needed for COVID-19 testing.
Both companies cited declining interest in their products as vaccines have replaced testing as the primary tool in the COVID-19 fight. The number of COVID-19 tests performed daily in the U.S. has dropped from as many as 2 million in January to about 500,000 per day now, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Puritan and Abbott still have major Maine presences and their work is far from over. The Guilford swab manufacturer plans to bring back workers next month after finalizing new orders with the U.S. government and expects long-term demand after $400 million in federal investments fueled a massive ramp-up, including the Pittsfield factory and another in Tennessee opening this year. Abbott was looking for up to 2,000 workers to make test kits here last year.
It is not just the big companies. Maine manufacturers that adapted last year to produce pandemic-related goods such as protective gear have been forced to switch back quickly in the past few months as demand for face coverings and similar products has dried up.
Layoffs in the manufacturing sectors have been one side effect of this, although manufacturing jobs on the whole have increased in the past few months. As of May, the most recent data available, there were about 52,100 people employed in manufacturing in Maine as the economy reopened, up from 49,000 in May of last year and only just shy of 2019 numbers.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Men who started standoff on Mass. highway had unregistered Maine license plates,” Lia Russell, Bangor Daily News: “It’s the second Maine connection to emerge for the group, some of whose members have claimed they are foreign nationals subject to the terms of an 18th-century treaty between Morocco and the U.S.”
— “Portland rent control ordinance can stand, judge rules,” Robbie Feinberg, Maine Public: “The ordinance passed in November restricts how often rent can be increased in the city — and by how much. Landlords must also present an ‘appropriate justification’ for any increase. In January, the Southern Maine Landlord Association sued to block the ordinance, arguing that it’s unlawful and violates due process.”
It is the second ruling this week upholding a referendum approved by Portland voters last fall. Maine’s high court ruled in favor of a ballot question that calls for frontline workers to receive hazard pay during states of emergency, but said the law as written was not set to go into effect into 2022.
— “Maine will get $20 million from Purdue Pharma opioid settlement,” Matt Berg, BDN: “The lawsuit was levied as a punishment for the company’s role in promoting OxyContin, exacerbating the opioid crisis, which has hit Maine particularly hard with 502 overdose deaths last year, the highest death toll yet recorded. Nationwide, about 500,000 people have died from opioid overdoses since 1999.”
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 here.
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