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Maine: Help coming to tenants; positivity rate below 2%

March 2, 2021 GMT
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Hollie Maloney, a pharmacy technician, loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. The Expo location, operated by Northern Light Health, is one of two mass vaccination sites that opened in Maine this week. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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Hollie Maloney, a pharmacy technician, loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine. The Expo location, operated by Northern Light Health, is one of two mass vaccination sites that opened in Maine this week. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A new emergency rental assistance program designed to help Maine tenants has started accepting applications.

MaineHousing said the program launched on Monday and is funded by the federal coronavirus stimulus package that passed in December.

The stimulus package provided $200 million in rental assistance funding to the state, MaineHousing said. The agency said the program allows applicants to apply for funds to cover rent and utilities owed back to March 13, 2020.

MaineHousing said it expects high demand at the beginning of the program. It’s asking tenants and landlords to communicate in advance of applying.

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Maine tenants are in need of the assistance, said Daniel Brennan, the director of MaineHousing.

“We are all living under the direction to stay ‘safe at home.’ We need to make sure that every Mainer has a stable home for themselves and their families,” he said.

In other pandemic news in Maine:

THE NUMBERS

The positivity rate in the state is half what it was two weeks ago.

The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 1.83%. 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 did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 3.74% on Feb. 15 to 1.83% on March 1.

Maine is scheduled to expand eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine to people 60 years and older on Wednesday.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said that’s happening as doses of the new Johnson & Johnson single-dose coronavirus vaccine are arriving in Maine. He encouraged residents to use it if offered at a vaccination clinic.

“The best vaccine you can take is the one that’s closest to your arm,” Shah said.

The Maine CDC reported on Tuesday that more than 44,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state since the start of the pandemic. There have also been 703 deaths.

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PORTLAND DINING

Officials in Maine’s largest city said an updated outdoor dining and retail permitting program will be in effect from April 2021 to April 2022.

Portland officials said in a statement the program will allow retailers and restaurants to “apply to expand into public spaces, including closed streets, parklets, the public right-of-way, and parks.”

City Manager Jon Jennings said the changes will allow businesses to operate safely for the coming year. Officials said the rules apply to the entire city and are not limited to the downtown area.