Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Ultimately it’s not good,” Old Town City Councilor Carol May said at the prospect that the city could need to change its election laws, which allow it to list candidates in a random order on the ballot, rather than alphabetically by last name. “They say it’s fair but you can’t change your last name, so that’s going to be a problem. I would be surprised if we’re the only place that questions it.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The coronavirus pandemic’s course in Maine is showing familiar elements, but how the state will move forward is uncertain. Maine’s status as the state with the lowest case rates in the country may provide little comfort with hospitalizations at a three-month high and the more contagious and deadly delta variant found in nearly all test samples sequenced in recent weeks. The state has 1,700 positive tests to review, which will likely cause case numbers to jump soon.

But the state appears to be staying the course after a confluence of events challenging its policies. Maine’s emergency services board voted on Monday to water down Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, giving those it regulates two more weeks to submit proof of vaccination and exempting dispatchers. Aroostook County schools are also dealing with outbreaks that returned them to remote work before most of Maine starts classes.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah told reporters that the state is not considering new mandates with the state of emergency over, saying he hoped residents and schools heed state and federal mask recommendations. But he also said the vaccine mandate for health care workers would not be changed.

Shah said he was “disappointed” in the EMS board’s decision, having noted earlier that nearly half of the state’s 21 open outbreak investigations are at health care facilities. That leeway would not be granted to other workers if they wanted to remain employed, he said.

“There’s a lot at stake right now as we think about outbreaks, as we think about more and more health care workers becoming infected or exposed,” he said.

How effective the recommendation approach will be remains to be seen as the school year begins. For instance, Shah said he hoped the state’s alignment with federal public health guidelines saying masking in high-transmission areas is recommended — as it is in schools regardless of anyone’s vaccination status — would spur locals to follow their lead.

But masking policies have varied across the state — though several districts that once said masks will be optional are now reconsidering. Vaccination rates among eligible students vary too. The Aroostook County outbreaks could be a sign of challenges to come.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Jared Golden’s group inks deal with Nancy Pelosi to move infrastructure, budget bills separately,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The compromise, finalized by members of the House Rules Committee and approved by the House on Tuesday, guarantees a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, ahead of Oct. 1 due date for the reauthorization of transportation funds included in the bill. But the timing of passage for the budget bill, which has yet to be drafted in full, is not yet clear.”

There are still plenty of internal battles that Democrats need to hash out. This was a negotiated victory for the U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District and his centrist Democratic group, but it is still unclear whether the party will be able to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill absent a larger partisan package. House progressives dug in again on a threat to oppose the smaller bill absent a larger one, though any larger bill needs to win over Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are skeptical of more spending like Golden and others in his group. 

— “2 Aroostook hospitals no longer issue COVID tests for Canada-bound travelers,” Melissa Lizotte and Alexander MacDougall, BDN: “In order for fully vaccinated Americans to travel into Canada without quarantining, they must produce a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of their arrival at the border. Their information must also be uploaded in the ArriveCAN mobile app, and travelers may be subject to another test at the border depending on the length of their visit.”

— “Maine CDC head worries possible COVID-19 test destruction could hamper school program,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Shah flagged the state’s pooled testing program as one major concern over any destroyed tests. Maine began offering the optional program in K-12 schools in May. Groups of students or staff are tested in a batch once a week. If one pool comes back positive, all people whose samples are included are tested individually. The method allows more people to be tested using less resources, since fewer individual tests are needed.”

Retired Navy Seal to mount long-shot run against Pingree 

A Lincoln County Republican is set to announce his run in the solidly liberal 1st Congressional District this week. Retired Navy Seal Ed Thelander of Bristol will hold a kick-off event on Saturday, his campaign said. But he will face an uphill battle against Rep. Chellie Pingree, who won a seventh term in 2020 with 62 percent of the vote. Nobody has gotten within 13 percentage points of Pingree since she was elected in 2008.

The district has not been represented by a Republican since former Rep. James Longley served one term in the mid-1990s, and it had different boundaries back then. It has gotten even safer for Democrats in recent years. Here’s your soundtrack.

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

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...