In this July 28, 2021, file photo, a sign outside the Dover-Foxcroft police department urges social distancing. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The kid went through some hardships, but don’t we all? Hardships make us stronger,” Dale “Greybeard” Sanders, the oldest person to hike the Appalachian Trail, said of Harvey “Little Man” Sutton, a 5-year-old boy who is the youngest to complete the trail. “That kid is going to smile through life.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

A high-profile COVID-19 case comes as the pandemic seems likely to persist longer than anticipated. U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine was one of three in his chamber to announce a positive COVID-19 test on Thursday. The 77-year-old has been fully vaccinated since January, making his case an example of the still-rare but increasingly noticeable breakthrough infections as the highly contagious delta variant becomes the dominant strain across the country.

It comes as Maine has seen a surge in virus cases over the past month, almost solely among unvaccinated people. The seven-day average of new cases was 161 as of Friday, down slightly from a week ago but more than triple what it was a month ago. The rise in cases came despite Maine’s high vaccination rate, with 64.3 percent of the population and nearly three-quarters of adults aged 18 and older now fully vaccinated, according to federal data. 

But that has not been enough to fully ward off the virus, with the surge in infections mirroring what has been seen in other highly vaccinated places in recent months. It seems likely to prompt a shift in strategy, with booster shots seemingly the next step in the COVID-19 fight, both in Maine and across the U.S. A third shot, which will become available to some Mainers in September, could reduce breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people. 

The slowdown in vaccinations has created a landscape much different from where people thought we would be at this point. We got a taste of normal in the early summer when cases declined sharply and Gov. Janet Mills lifted Maine’s state of emergency. But normal still seems far away: Most schools are contemplating masking for students and staff as young children still remain ineligible for vaccines and younger people make up a higher share of cases. 

Those decisions are playing out unevenly across Maine as people debate whether low transmission rates at school are enough to justify not taking the safety precaution. The Maine Principals’ Association is shifting its tournament style in anticipation that teams will have to cancel games due to quarantines.

An underutilized worker incentive program illustrates other ways the virus still has a hold. Opposition is growing to an attempt to rein in cases among health care workers by requiring the vaccine by Oct. 1, although it’s unclear how many workers will exit the workforce because of it. Businesses are still seeing virus-related closures. Even as the vaccine picture improves, the mood still feels somewhat like last fall.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine plans to deny key certification for Kennebec dam, extending dispute with its owner,” Andrews, BDN: “The state found the dam’s impoundment met the state’s criteria to support aquatic life, but that the discharge waters did not meet state requirements to support native fish species in these waters. The law also requires the habitat of the fish be unimpaired, something Maine believes Brookfield will be unable to achieve despite the company’s assurances that planned fish passage upgrades will allow for 96 percent upstream passage and 97 percent downstream passage for Atlantic salmon. The law does not set an exact threshold for unimpaired migration.”

— “Presque Isle lawmaker leaves Maine’s 2nd District race to endorse Bruce Poliquin,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “[Sen. Trey] Stewart was the first major contender to throw his hat into the ring against the Democratic incumbent representing a key swing district ahead of the 2022 election. But just over a month after announcing his candidacy, the 27-year-old law student said dropping out was the “most responsible” choice after [former Rep. Bruce] Poliquin declared his return bid in early August.”

The 2nd District election now appears poised for a rematch of 2018. Rep. Jared Golden, who narrowly defeated Poliquin in 2018, will this time try to hold onto his seat with the former congressman as his challenger. The race is drawing significant national attention, with outside Republican groups already spending more than $1 million on ads aiming to take down Golden.

— “1st tenant at former East Millinocket mill would use 12,000 tons of wood chips a year,” “There’s a lot of growth potential in the biochar industry, [Standard Biocarbon CEO Frederick] Horton said. It could ‘scale up’ to rival the paper industry in the next 10 years, he said. One study from an investment organization last year projected the negative emission technology industry could generate $800 billion in annual revenue by 2050.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, 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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