PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Public health authorities in Maine said Wednesday it's impossible to know when coronavirus vaccines could reach inmates in the state's prisons and jails because of the limited supply of the vaccine.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has called on the state to prioritize prisons, jails and detention facilities in its vaccine plans. Inmates “live in crowded facilities where social distancing is not possible,” said Meagan Sway, ACLU Maine's policy director.
Maine is in the midst of rolling out coronavirus vaccines to front-line health workers and residents of long-term care facilities. The state has vaccinated more than 8,000 people so far, but supply constraints make it difficult to plan too far into the future, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC.
“There is much much more need for vaccine in Maine than there is vaccine in Maine,” Shah said. “We are concerned about any individual who lives in a carceral setting because COVID-19 has spread within them.”
Jails and prisons have been the site of coronavirus outbreaks in Maine. One, at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, sickened dozens of inmates.
In other pandemic news in Maine:
Public health authorities in Maine reported a record number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday with more than 700 new cases. However, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said the number includes cases with positive test results dating back to Dec. 8.
“Maine's metrics remain concerning but suggest that COVID-19 spread is beginning to ease in the state,” the DHHS said in a statement.
Maine CDC also reported that the state has now logged more than 20,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. The total reported cases stood at 20,491 on Thursday. The state CDC has also reported 311 deaths from the virus.
The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 5.82%. 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 3.41% on Dec. 8 to 5.82% on Dec. 22.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services also said Wednesday it's launching a new text messaging service to alert people who have tested positive for coronavirus of steps they can take to limit the spread of the disease. The messages will go to people who test positive for the virus and voluntarily provide their phone number to their testing site.
The messages will come from Maine CDC and arrive from the number 22300.
The Maine Department of Labor has sent one-time payments of $600 to thousands of residents left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills authorized the payment, which differs from financial relief Americans may receive in the new federal coronavirus relief package. The Maine Department of Labor distributed the state payments to about 40,000 people on Monday.
The state used $25.2 million in federal coronavirus aid to make the payments. Mills has said the payments differ from unemployment benefits, and are intended to help residents who were likely to exhaust or lose benefits from federal unemployment programs.
Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the state will also “work to implement any federal changes to unemployment programs as quickly as possible after they are passed into law.”