In this March 2, 2021, file photo, a pharmacy technician loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The main point is that outside is really safe. Maybe if you’re in a concert venue where you’re packed cheek by jowl like sardines, maybe there would be a possibility of transmission,” Dr. Peter Millard, an epidemiologist, said of what Halloween activities are safe with COVID-19 still spreading this fall. “But really, trick-or-treating is probably completely safe.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The politically charged mandate is both driving up vaccination rates and putting some providers on the brink. We are in the “two things can be true” phase of Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers, who must get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Friday to comply with the requirement to be enforced by the state on Oct. 29. A federal judge also declined to block the law on Wednesday, citing doubt that opponents will prevail later on in the case.

Vaccination rates rose sharply in the health sector in September, the first full month after the Democratic governor announced the mandate, with hospitals and nursing homes now seeing 91.6 percent and 85.8 percent of workers vaccinated at the end of last month, respectively, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data.

But that news came amid steep workforce challenges that some organizations are facing due to the mandate. That includes Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, which had 85 percent of workers vaccinated but has cited departures of key staff in its decision to shut down its neonatal intensive care unit and suspend admissions for pediatric and trauma patients. Two hospitals — MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington — have lower rates.

A Lincoln nursing home said Wednesday it would be slashing beds and serving only as an assisted living facility. It is among the providers that still has a vaccination rate well below the state average. Colonial Healthcare saw its rate rise from 49 percent to 69 percent over the past month, but still faced staffing shortages with the remaining 30 percent of workers not yet vaccinated. A handful of other nursing homes announced plans to close in recent weeks.

Five other nursing homes across the state also reported rates lower than 70 percent, while more than a dozen had reached 100 percent of staff vaccinated. Assisted housing facilities report even lower vaccination rates on average.

Their progress this month will be key for their future and their patients’ care. It will also be a vital part of the political dialogue in Maine, with Republicans and a bipartisan group of Lewiston-area lawmakers asking Mills to allow a testing alternative. She has resisted those calls so far, citing an upcoming federal mandate that will not have such an opt-out. But the vaccine progress and centralized issues are going to collide more over the next two weeks.

The Maine politics top 3

—  “CMP corridor debate turns to Maine Legislature’s role in power projects at BDN forum,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “If the referendum passed, a range of projects requiring leases on public lands would be subjected to a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Maine Legislature. Under current law, the Bureau of Public Lands can generally approve leases without involving lawmakers. The law would clearly apply to the CMP corridor, and would also apply to other pipelines, telecommunications facilities and railroad tracks, among other projects, in the future.”

Work on the corridor has continued despite pending review. About three-quarters of the route needed to construct the project has been cleared ahead of an Oct. 19 review of a public lease and the Nov. 2 vote on the referendum. Construction is allowed to proceed on the route except for a one mile stretch of public lands the state will revisit after a Superior Court judge deemed it should have been subject to a vote in the Legislature.

— “Company pursuing a metal mine in the Katahdin region temporarily withdraws rezoning request,” Fred Bever, Maine Public: “Wolfden’s CEO, Ronald Little, called the project a ‘showcase’ operation that would use environmentally benign ways to mine minerals needed by modern technology. He said Wolfden has already invested millions of dollars in the application process.”

— “Staff shortages are creating an unsustainable workload for Maine restaurant owners,” Bisi Cameron Yee, Lincoln County News: “Temporary closings, exhausted staff and owners, packed waiting areas, frustrated customers – these were the sober realities for many establishments during the 2021 summer season. While most places had a core crew they relied on to keep the doors open (albeit with reduced hours and occasional unexpected closures), very few restaurants had the reserves to absorb call-outs or beef up shifts to meet the demand for weekend business.”

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.

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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...