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Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 11, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, March 11, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, March 11, 2021
Hugging grandkids: another restriction lifted

COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020
Click here to see the full COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020.

by Leslie Landrigan

Mainers who are fully vaccinated can now feel free to hug their unvaccinated children and grandchildren—indoors and without masks—according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a virtual news conference on March 9.

Shah added some cautions: An indoor visit should only be with members of one household and in a private home. “Fully vaccinated” means at least two weeks after that final shot. Finally, the unvaccinated people should all be healthy.

“We are in this odd and uneven period between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet,’ Shah said. “No longer must fully vaccinated folks avoid gathering with fully vaccinated friends. No longer must fully vaccinated folks avoid seeing their unvaccinated grandchildren.”

However, even the fully vaccinated should still take safety precautions, he said.

“Not yet should fully vaccinated folks abandon masks altogether, or gather in large groups, or go to raves,” he said.

Loosening up

Shah’s new guidance followed a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in Maine by Gov. Janet Mills last week. She announced a gradual easing of limits on travel and gathering. (See below.)

Local organizations are already responding to the change. The Good Life Center in Brooksville announced it will open on Memorial Day after staying closed all last summer, according to a news release. The Opera House in Stonington may open for movies indoors by the end of March, according to Bill Anderson, board chairman, during a Healthy Island Project Zoom meeting. The Foster Grandparent program at Blue Hill Consolidated School is restarting after shutting down last year, according to Mary-Anne Saxl in the same Zoom meeting.

Mills on March 5 immediately allowed unlimited travel between Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, while Vermont and New Hampshire continue to be unrestricted. Fully vaccinated people no longer have to quarantine for 10 days or test negative for COVID-19 when they travel beyond Maine’s borders.

All that depends on a continued increase in vaccinations and stabilization of the pandemic, Mills said. According to Shah, new cases of COVID-19 have reached “a relatively stable plateau” at 130 to 170 new cases a day.

Vaccine

Mills on March 3 also said people 60 and older could get vaccinated, as well as school and child-care staff regardless of age.

That has made it a little harder for people 70 and older to schedule a vaccine, according to Rene Colson Hudson, director of the Healthy Island Project in Deer Isle, during a Zoom call on March 9.

Nevertheless, more Mainers are getting vaccinated. In the past week, 10,000 people a day got vaccinated, up from 7,700 a day the previous week, Shah said.

About one in five Mainers has had at least their first shot, and one in nine has completed their COVID-19 vaccination series, he said.

However, until the end of March or beginning of April, the state can only expect to get a little more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Maine will also get just a little of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until that time, he said. Then he expects more deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a modest increase in the other two.

Speaking at the same news conference, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said she’s “cautiously optimistic” people aged 50 and older can start getting vaccinated in April.

Lambrew also said people can get free rides to vaccination sites if they have trouble getting around. They should call 1-855-608-5172 48 hours before their scheduled vaccine from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

School and child-care staff

Teachers, school staff and licensed child-care providers now have three ways to get vaccinated, Lambrew said. First, they can get their shots at retail pharmacies such as Hannaford and Walmart in Ellsworth and Walgreens in Ellsworth and Blue Hill. The U.S. CDC has ordered those pharmacies to just vaccinate teachers unless someone else had already made an appointment before the order.

Second, they can go to the clinics and hospitals everyone else is going to, Lambrew said.

Third, the state will hold special clinics for schoolteachers and staff over 60 on March 12, 13 and 14, she said. School districts will notify teachers where they can get their shots.

According to the governor’s website, that means 36,400 staff and 16,000 child-care providers are now eligible, in addition to 10,632 school staff over 60 who already qualify for the vaccine.

For the state’s schedule of loosening restrictions: maine.gov/decd/checklists/large-social-gatherings.