Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at the Maine State House on March 12, 2020, in Augusta. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is at right. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re not trying to get rich. We know you don’t make money with an ambulance service,” said Milford Fire Chief Josh Mailman, about the town’s hopes to buy an ambulance as emergency calls have increased. “If we can alleviate this problem that’s been there for a little while, we’re happy to help.”

What we’re watching today

A new emergency declaration could rely on the state of Maine’s hospitals, although such an idea looks to be largely a thought exercise for now. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Wednesday that Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has discussed what reentering the status Maine existed under for 16 months might look like, a situation that would give the governor the ability to waive certain regulations and impose economic restrictions. The state of emergency was hotly contested by Republicans in later months, and the administration ended it in late June as cases slowed.

But Shah made clear Wednesday that the possibility was not being actively considered as the numbers of available beds fluctuates quickly. He noted the number of available critical care beds — which stood at 42 on Wednesday but was above recent lows — can be influenced by staffing as workers get sick or later return to work. It is compounded by structural staffing challenges.

Shah said there is no particular threshold the state is looking for when considering another emergency. He said the state must also consider if entering another emergency would provide advantages, which he doubted because the state has plenty of testing supplies at its lab.

The head of Maine’s hospital interest group was not so sure. Maine Hospital Association President Steve Michaud pointed to staffing challenges at Maine Medical Center, the state’s biggest hospital in Portland. It announced it would be halting elective procedures as its parent, MaineHealth, paused all surgeries that might require hospitalization as rising cases have strapped emergency rooms across the state.

He also noted the hospital’s emergency room has been diverting patients, a practice where a facility sends patients it does not have room for to other hospitals. A spokesperson for the hospital confirmed Maine Medical Center has been on diversion “several times” during the recent surge, though it will still admit “life-threatening” conditions like trauma and strokes.

Michaud said other hospitals have been on diversion as well, although the situation overall seems to be holding steady. A quickly-approaching flu season, however, could tip the delicate balance.

“If this doesn’t get better soon, they’re going to have to start thinking about it,” Michaud said, referring to the Mills administration and a state of emergency.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Mainers are waiting longer for COVID-19 test results with demand rising,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Many providers said they were seeing high volumes of testing but were generally able to keep up with demand and not experiencing supply issues. But turnaround times vary depending on where testing is done, Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah told reporters on Wednesday. That could complicate the state’s efforts to combat the virus as cases climb.”

One of the state’s biggest health care providers is reopening testing sites across the state. The increased demand led Northern Light Health to announce the reopening of sites at Mercy Hospital and the Bangor International Airport. Both of them will open on Friday. The provider is also opening up smaller sites across a region stretching from eastern to western Maine from Ellsworth to Greenville.

— “2 Maine counties have higher COVID-19 transmission rates than most states,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “While Maine’s recent case rate is still 15th-lowest nationally, the divergence within the state becomes apparent when comparing county-level infection rates to other U.S. states. Some are lower than any state while others are experiencing higher transmission than most U.S. states, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

— “Former guard claims she was fired from Knox County Jail after being sexually harassed by co-worker,” Lauren Abbate, BDN: “Instead she allegedly continued to face harassment from the male guard. The lawsuit states that Myers also continued to report the incidents to at least two supervisors, though she claims nothing was done following her complaints.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews. Michael Shepherd edited and Jessica Piper contributed. 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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