Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, covers his heart while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on March 10, 2021 at the Augusta Civic Center. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The state’s redistricting commission is set to release potential congressional and Maine Senate maps today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The doctor admonished her, said ‘Why are you out there lobstering?’” said Wayne Gray of his family friend, 101-year-old lobsterman Virginia Oliver. “She said, ‘Because I want to.’”

What we’re watching today

Two prominent Democrats testing positive for COVID-19 a day apart shows breakthrough cases — while still rare — are becoming more common. The announcement that Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Maine Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, make the two the latest in a small number of politicians here who have announced they contracted the virus despite being fully vaccinated.

There is no evidence that the cases are linked, although legislative staff have not answered questions about whether they are close contacts. But Jackson’s illness coming after he attended a Monday fundraiser alongside lawmakers and lobbyists has put many Augusta insiders on alert, with several opting to get tested after organizers encouraged precautions. The events both required proof of vaccination and took place outside.

Maine reported just over 1,500 new breakthrough cases between Aug. 6 and Sep. 10, accounting for roughly 16 percent of cases. That is a huge jump, since Maine recorded only 712 total cases in fully vaccinated people before Aug. 6. But more should be expected since overall cases in Maine are as high as they have been since the spring, and greater transmission of the virus leads to more exposure among vaccinated people, too.

The data still shows how effective vaccines are at preventing both infections and severe cases. Vaccines are still highly effective at preventing infection — during that five-week period, about 1.5 percent of not fully vaccinated people in Maine tested positive for the virus, compared to only 0.17 percent of fully vaccinated people, meaning unvaccinated people were more than eight times likelier to be infected. Virtually all of these breakthrough cases are mild as well. At Northern Light Health, the state’s second largest hospital system, 59 of 66 patients hospitalized earlier this week had not had any doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah noted those numbers might increase on Wednesday, saying that certain situations where more vulnerable, vaccinated people are close together might create situations where breakthroughs are likelier. But the chances of getting sick or being severely ill are far less likely when vaccinated.

“People can still get into a car accident and injure themselves, even if they are wearing a seatbelt,” he said. 

The Maine politics top 3

— “See the COVID-19 vaccination rates of school staff at every Maine school,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “More than 30 schools across the state have perfect staff vaccination rates, with 100 percent of employees fully vaccinated as of the end of August, the data show. The group includes both public and private schools, including some smaller schools — such as Cliff Island School — that have few employees, as well as some larger schools, such as Longfellow Elementary School in Portland and Cape Elizabeth Middle School.”

— “Janet Mills hiring private lawyers to fight ‘draconian’ lobstering challenges,” Steve Mistler, Maine Public: “Marine Resources chief Patrick Keliher said that Gov. Janet Mills is hiring private attorneys to help fight a lawsuit in the U.S. D.C. Circuit Court brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups that are challenging the data used by the federal government to issue lobstering regulations to protect right whales.”

— “Brewer is concerned about inmates’ early releases at overcrowded county jail,” Lia Russell, BDN: “[Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton] has cited a large backlog of criminal cases at the Penobscot Judicial Center as a major contributor to the overcrowding. That backlog grew especially quickly in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties as courts scaled back their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

King: Republicans ‘forcing’ us to think about changing filibuster

Maine’s junior senator said Wednesday that changes to the 60-vote threshold could be on the table after Republicans indicated they would block a new voting bill. Democrats put forward this week a revised voting rights bill that aims to combat voting restrictions passed in recent years in Republican-led states and, unlike previous efforts, seems to have universal support among Democrats.

But the bill seems all but dead in the Senate without Republican support. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has generally been skeptical of eliminating the filibuster, but said earlier this year that he would consider doing so for voting-rights legislation. He reiterated that stance Wednesday, telling MSNBC there would have to be some “deep thinking” about the filibuster if Republicans did not get on board. 

“Republicans have to understand that by just saying no on the first day that this bill is introduced, they’re forcing those of us that feel that voting rights is really fundamental to our democracy to be thinking about modifying the rule,” King said.

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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