AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Legislature has approved a bill designed to eliminate barriers to coronavirus screening, testing and immunization.
Proponents of the bill called it the “COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights,” and it passed the Legislature during a session that stretched from Thursday into early Friday. The proposal requires state-regulated insurers to cover coronavirus screening, testing and immunization at no cost to patients.
Democratic House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, a leading proponent of the bill, said the proposal is about “making sure nothing prevents Mainers from getting the health care they need to protect themselves, their families and loved ones from this serious virus.”
The proposal also stops health care providers from charging patients any sort of fee related to coronavirus preventative services.
The proposal now goes to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who has said she supports the bill. She has 10 days to sign it, and it would become effective immediately.
In other pandemic news in Maine:
ONE YEAR LATER
Friday marked the anniversary of the first recorded case of the coronavirus in Maine. Mills took steps including suspending all nonessential out-of-state work travel by state employees on that day.
Mills declared a state of civil emergency days later on March 15, 2020. The proclamation remains in effect.
The state is now in the thick of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Gov. Mills said Friday that the state is accelerating its vaccination schedule to make all Maine adults eligible for a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, in line with President Joe Biden's recent order.
“As the Biden Administration works to get us shots, we will continue our work to get them into arms," Mills said.
One in eight residents of the state has now received the coronavirus vaccine, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah on Thursday.
“I'm generally optimistic about where we are heading, particularly because of the vaccine,” he said.
The Maine CDC said Friday that it has reported 46,650 cases of the virus and 723 deaths.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 146.14 on Feb. 24 to 173.86 on March 10. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 6.57 on Feb. 24 to 3.17 on March 10.
The Mills administration also announced changes to the state's guidance about community sports that allow for all levels of play for sports deemed low-risk. Low-risk sports include golf, individual swimming, gymnastics and weightlifting.
The changes also allow most levels of play for moderate-risk sports, and for the resumption of within-team competition for high-risk sports, the administration said. Moderate-risk sports include baseball, soccer and ice hockey while high-risk sports include football and wrestling.
“The Maine Principals Association has committed to aligning its guidance for school sports with this revised guidance for community sports,” the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said in a statement.
New unemployment claims ticked down slightly in early March in Maine, though the coronavirus pandemic continued to have consequences for the state’s economy.
The Maine Department of Labor said Thursday it recorded about 1,500 initial claims for state unemployment insurance for the week that ended March 6. That was down from 1,700 during the previous week.
The labor department said initial claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance also fell slightly. A total of about 2,000 people filed an initial claim or reopened an unemployment claim, down from 2,250 the previous week, the department said.
The most recent statistics about statewide unemployment in Maine show the unemployment rate remains nearly double the figure from a year ago at 5%. However, continued claims for state unemployment insurance are also falling. There were about 16,000 continued claims for the week ending March 6 and 16,800 the previous week, the labor department said.