BANGOR, Maine (AP) — Democratic leaders in Maine criticized MaineHealth on Tuesday for providing coronavirus vaccinations to out-of-state consultants hired to fight an effort to unionize nurses.

Gov. Janet Mills called the move “an inexcusable act.” Senate President Troy Jackson said vaccinating the consultants diverted vaccines from vulnerable Mainers.

“Every out-of-state consultant and lawyer that MaineHealth flew in as part of their intimidation campaign got the vaccine instead of someone’s grandparent or loved one,” Jackson said.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest health network, said in a statement that it vaccinated a small number of out-of-state individuals and “erred” in doing so.

Jeanne M. Lambrew, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the state would “continue to be more aggressive with our providers to make sure they are following our guidelines.”

In other pandemic news in Maine:

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THE NUMBERS

The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 3.38%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Maine the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 3.21% on Jan. 25 to 3.38% on Feb. 8.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 41,000 positive cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. It has also reported 639 deaths.

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HELP FOR RESEARCHERS

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wants the federal government to use almost $25 billion to support researchers who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal is designed to help researchers who have suffered financial hardships and other difficulties because of the pandemic, supporters of the proposal said. The act was proposed by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan.

The senators called the proposal the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act, or the RISE Act. Collins said the proposal “would provide critical funding to the research communities in Maine and throughout the country” in a time when research advances have been made difficult by the pandemic.

“Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, with their devastating human and financial costs, are powerful examples of the urgent need to keep our momentum in research funding going,” Collins said.

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RURAL AID

Maine's independent U.S. senator has joined a push for the federal government to prioritize emergency coronavirus relief money for rural areas.

Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, said money from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund needs to reach rural areas quickly because of the need for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and other essential services. King joined a bipartisan group of senators from largely rural states in requesting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services distribute the money swiftly.

The senators said Congress set aside $2.5 billion within the public health fund for high-risk, underserved and rural communities. They said in a statement that “additional resources are needed to ensure that health providers and health departments have the funding necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”