Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah speaks at his final, regular pandemic press briefing in Augusta on June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “In my lifetime, it has happened many times, where we haven’t seen them and then all of a sudden there’s a big blossom of scallops,” said Eric Hansen, the owner of two scallop boats, as the population of the shellfish appears to be declining. “Nature has its own schedule.”

What we’re watching today

As the pandemic wanes, Maine’s COVID-19 numbers are harder to read. Adjustments in how the state reports cases, along with swings associated with smaller numbers, are a good reminder to be careful in interpreting the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s daily virus data that has been a fixture of media and public attention throughout the pandemic.

As case counts remain extremely low, the Maine CDC stopped reporting cases on Sundays and Mondays (which reflects cases recorded over the weekend) earlier this month. From a numerical perspective, that means case reports on Tuesdays are elevated. It also made the seven-day average of new cases temporarily seem lower than it actually was when the change was introduced earlier this month.

The agency also continues to report virus deaths that may have occurred months ago. On Thursday, it reported 10 new virus deaths — all of which had occurred in 2020. Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah would typically explain the delayed reporting during the agency’s weekly briefings, but those came to an end at the end of June.

There are more strange numerical quirks that are likely to occur as case counts get lower. Week-to-week virus levels have often been measured in terms of percentages — if cases are up 30 percent from the previous week, that is concerning; if they drop 25 percent, that is an improvement. But percentages like this become less useful as case numbers drop. 

Sagadahoc County, for example, saw only one COVID-19 case reported in the first week of July. In the week after that, it saw three cases. That could be written as a 200 percent increase. But when you look at the raw case counts, few people would be concerned about a surge there. It is a reminder that both absolute and percentage increases are worth considering.

That does not mean there are no COVID-19 trends worth watching for. Despite Maine’s high vaccination rate and low case count, health experts are still concerned about the arrival of the delta variant, saying it poses a risk to the more than 400,000 Mainers who are still unvaccinated. Many other states are seeing genuinely large COVID-19 surges right now. With pandemic restrictions all but gone, Maine still faces risks. They just should not be overstated.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Janet Mills urges bipartisan deal on COVID-19 after Democrats add items opposed by GOP,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Mills could line-item veto individual spending items in the package, but it would not make the bill pass any faster. While both sides say talks will continue through the weekend, Democrats and Republicans have drawn lines on some items that sets them up for a collision.”

—  “Spending in the political fight over the CMP corridor exceeds $42M,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Pro-corridor spending continued to far outpace anti-corridor money, but the flow on both sides highlights how the project aiming to bring hydropower from Quebec through western Maine stands to benefit business interests and hurt others. The fight about the corridor has extended for more than 18 months after a ballot question last year was declared unconstitutional.”

A years-long court case over a South Portland air quality ordinance has come to a close. The Portland Pipe Line Corporation dropped its federal challenge to the city’s “Clear Skies” law yesterday after President Joe Biden filed a brief supporting the city last month, Maine Public reported. The end of the suit is a victory for environmentalists, as the ordinance prevents the company from reversing the flow of oil and sending it from Canada to South Portland.

— “Canada planning to allow vaccinated Americans by mid-August,” Alexander MacDougall, Houlton Pioneer Times: “It is unknown what measures Americans may have to take in order to demonstrate proof of vaccination before entering Canada. Currently, dual citizens and Americans with Canadian family members may cross, but must produce a negative COVID-19 test result and download the ArriveCAN app to upload their proof of vaccination.” Here’s your soundtrack.

State employees will no longer be required to wear masks if they are vaccinated. The policy change starting on July 26 will likely herald the return of more workers to government buildings as the state plans to phase workers back in through Labor Day. Those who are not willing to provide proof of vaccination or are not vaccinated will still need to wear face coverings while indoors.

Mills’ campaign ramps up to raise $575K over 6 months

The governor posted a respectable number on the first campaign finance deadline since she began raising money in earnest this year. The early numbers from Gov. Janet Mills are not anything like the eye-popping fundraising numbers we saw during last year’s record-smashing U.S. Senate race. But gubernatorial races rarely attract as much cash as the biggest federal races. The Democratic incumbent has just shy of $377,000 cash on hand, according to her report filed with the Maine Ethics Commission Thursday.

At this point in his reelection campaign in 2013, former Gov. Paul LePage — who is Mills’ opponent this year — had raised $345,000. Elections generally get more expensive every cycle, though. Mills raised just over $3 million in total during her run for governor in 2018. LePage did not have to file a campaign finance report yesterday, since he did not officially begin his campaign until July 1.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper and edited by 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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