(The Center Square) – Maine politicians are divided over President Joe Biden's new COVID-19 vaccine mandate that will require tens of thousands of federal workers in the state to get their shots.
Biden's mandate, unveiled on Thursday, applies to federal workers and contractors who do business with the federal government. The new rules will also require employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly. Companies that don't follow the rules face fines of up to $14,000 per violation, Biden administration officials said.
The plan will also require vaccinations for about 17 million health care workers at hospitals and other facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.
The White House estimates that the mandates could affect 100 million Americans who are still not vaccinated against the virus, including an estimated 169,000 workers in Maine.
Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, issued a statement saying she agrees with Biden "that the vaccine is the most effective tool to stem this surge, save lives and end the pandemic, and she shares his desire to see more people vaccinated."
"Maine is one of the most vaccinated states in the nation," the statement read. "However, Maine, like much of the nation, is also experiencing a surge of the unvaccinated, with the more dangerous and highly transmissible Delta variant driving infections, serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths almost entirely among those who have not gotten the vaccine."
Mills, who has been criticized for her recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, said the state will be "exploring all options" to expand vaccinations.
Sen. Angus King, an independent who often caucuses with Democrats, said he also supports Biden's "efforts to follow the science and encourage more Americans to take the common sense steps to get past this pandemic – whether that is vaccination, regular testing, or masking and social distancing."
King, who is fully vaccinated, recently recovered a bout with COVID-19 and said he believes the vaccine prevented him from more serious health consequences.
But Sen. Susan Collins, the only Republican member of the state's congressional delegation, said she's worried the mandate will put a strain on the state's health care system and businesses.
“The federal government should not be dictating vaccine mandates and especially should not tie Medicare and Medicaid funding essential to the care of our seniors to vaccine mandates,” Collins said in a statement.
Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, also criticized Biden's mandate and said he is concerned about its potential impact on Maine’s fragile labor market.
“While I personally think getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a good thing to do, I am generally skeptical of blanket mandates from the federal government,” he said.
His colleague, Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, reacted favorably to the president's new mandate and urged people to get vaccinated.
"We have made immense progress these last few months, but partial victory does not exist against a virus," she posted on social media. "The frustrating refusal of people to get their free vaccination has given COVID-19 new life and allowed the Delta variant to spread through our communities."
The latest numbers show an uptick in COVID-19 infections in Maine, with eight additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, along with 506 new cases. Nearly 200 patients were hospitalized.
Nearly 64% of eligible Maine residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 80% have had at least one shot, the agency says.