In this March 1, 2021, file photo, Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Department of Health and Human Services speaks to reporters at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I could work today if I wanted to,” said Alphena Babineau, 96, of Portland, who worked as a welder during WWII, as women stepped up to fill a range of jobs. “But I don’t want to.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine’s final COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers is narrower than initially proposed in late summer. The final rule, released by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, no longer includes employees at dental practices or emergency medical service workers, though the latter group will still be covered by a rule from a different state agency. The Maine Dental Association was one of the few industry organizations to protest the requirement, telling Gov. Janet Mills in an August letter that an extended deadline for the mandate would be needed to avoid losing a third of dental offices’ staff.

Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during a Wednesday press conference that the change was in response to a lack of documented outbreaks at dental offices. The change also aligns the COVID-19 vaccine mandate with other immunization requirements for Maine health care workers. Workers at nursing homes, residential care facilities and home health agencies were already required to get vaccinated against a range of other diseases, such as measles. But those mandates had never applied to dental practices, which fall under a different state board.

Nearly all Maine health care workers are now vaccinated at facilities where it is required. Nearly 98 percent of staff were vaccinated as of the end of October, according to state data released Wednesday. That is up significantly from the spring, when just 68 percent of nursing home employees and 73 percent of hospital workers had gotten the vaccine.

The changes will likely have more of an effect on incoming staff than current employees. It is not clearly exactly how many dental practice employees are vaccinated in Maine, as the state was not tracking them along with the other required employees. About 89 percent of dentists in the country had at least one shot in June, with dental hygienists at 72 percent, according to the American Dental Association. The progression of vaccinations in the state shows that the requirement motivated many employees to get the shot — it is unlikely dental offices were any different. 

Vaccination rates among Maine adults have picked up noticeably in the past few weeks, with the number of daily first doses administered more than doubling compared with earlier this fall. Employer mandates could be one factor driving that, as additional health care workers who do not fall under the state’s mandate could fall under a Medicare vaccination requirement, and workers at companies with 100 or more employees could fall under a mandate from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that a federal court has put on hold.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Top Maine Democrat faces 2022 fight with GOP trying to expand battlegrounds,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The races will happen against the backdrop of the race between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. It could test Democrats’ trifecta control of both the Senate and House of Representatives. Last year’s election was a mixed one, with Democrats gaining one seat in the upper chamber but losing seven House seats. Republicans may see a better environment next year in a midterm election for President Joe Biden.”

— “More than 3,000 Maine kids get COVID-19 vaccine in week after approval,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Kids in Cumberland County were getting vaccinated at the highest rate over the last week, with nearly 1,400 children receiving the vaccine, accounting for about 6.6 percent of those in the 5-11 age group, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, only a handful of kids in Franklin and Piscataquis counties had received the shot.”

— “What the US pledge to reduce methane emissions could mean for Maine,” Sam Schipani, BDN: “Adam Daigneault, associate professor of forest policy and economics at the University of Maine, said since most of the United States’s implementation strategy to reach the 2030 methane reduction targets involves oil and gas production rather than consumption, the pledges are unlikely to tip the scales when it comes to shifting Maine’s dependence on these fossil fuels — for example, by electrifying the grid and developing infrastructure for electric vehicles.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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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