ELLSWORTH — When we speak, breathe, shout, laugh, sing, sneeze or cough, saliva or mucus droplets — as fine as an aerosol mist — are released and can linger in the air for up to half an hour.
These minute drops, containing viral particles, can land on someone’s nose, mouth or eyes and infect them with the virus that causes COVID-19.
This is why public health officials in Maine and around the globe still urge people to wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit in-person interactions as they go about their lives. COVID-19 has killed 65 Mainers as of Tuesday.
The state’s cases total 1,477, as of Tuesday, with Hancock County holding firm at 10 cases and one death without a surge or rise in about a week.
With Maine maybe curbing its COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, and the reopening of some businesses, more Hancock County residents — with and without masks —were out and about earlier this week. Taking advantage of the favorable weather, they went about their business to grocery shop, get a haircut, go to long-overdue doctor’s appointments and attend to other tasks in Ellsworth.
Alta Kennedy of Steuben and her grandson Edgar Charles Bills both had masks on as they emerged from the High Street Barber Shop. Outside, they removed their facial coverings and climbed into their vehicle.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Kennedy said Monday, referring to the masks. In Washington County, where she hails from, she noted few COVID-19 cases have surfaced there. A total of two. “I do it because it’s the right thing to do and it keeps everyone safe.”
A door down from the barber shop in the Ellsworth Shopping Center, Violetta Priestley of Ellsworth was finishing her laundry — unmasked — in the Downeast Laundromat.
“I understand the original panic, but I think it’s time to reassess the situation,” she said. “If your immune system is too weak to handle a common virus, is it my responsibility to wear a mask and keep you safe? Where do we draw the coddling line?”
In her latest executive order on May 1, Governor Janet Mills extended Maine’s stay-at-home-order through May 31, but is easing restrictions on Mainers’ activities in a four-stage, staggered approach to prevent the novel coronavirus’s spread.
In Stage 1, which took effect May 1, health-care providers, hair salons, state parks, golf/disc golf courses, drive-up churches and auto dealerships were authorized to open.
As part of Mills’ May 1 order, the public is required to wear cloth face coverings in places where large numbers of people congregate such as grocery stores, retail shops, pharmacies, playgrounds, parking lots and takeout businesses. Employers were ordered to ensure workers wear such coverings “when appropriate.” Construction companies were directed to use additional personal protective equipment on job sites.
The May 1 order’s most noticeable effect may have been in supermarkets, where most sales and grocery associates immediately started wearing some form of face covering in contrast to previous weeks when the practice was not always followed.
Whether it’s a mask, shield or bandana, the coverings vary depending on what is tolerable, especially for the stores’ cashiers, who are often standing in one place for lengthy periods
Outside Shaw’s Supermarket, Edgar and Leslie Stanley took off their masks after doing a big shopping trip. The Southbridge, Mass., couple have been sequestered at their seasonal Milbridge home save for masked grocery expeditions.
“I don’t mind. I think it’s a good way to protect the public and ourselves,” Edgar Stanley said, adding that those choosing not to wear masks in public make him uneasy. “I think it [the pandemic] is going to go on for a while.”
Coinciding with the Governor’s extension of the stay-at-home order on April 29, Hannaford was among supermarket chains and big-box stores that took the cue that day and required that facial coverings be worn by both employees and shoppers. Via email, Hannaford informed customers that its store associates now must wear masks or shields on the job. The policy change followed customer complaints about why workers previously had been given a choice to wear masks when it came to protecting themselves and the public.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and reacting quickly to changing circumstances,” Hannaford’s April 29 customer notice said.
As Maine’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah has said Mainers should assume that COVID-19 is in their communities. Shah said they should remain vigilant despite the seeming low number of confirmed cases in counties such as Hancock and Washington.
John Ronan, president of Northern Light Maine Coast and Blue Hill hospitals, says that means social distancing and wearing cloth face coverings in the hospitals and in public.
“Face coverings help stop the community spread of COVID-19. This covering can be a face mask, bandana or scarf,” he said this week. “You can still spread COVID-19 if you don’t feel sick, but wearing a face covering reduces the chance you might spread it to others through talking, coughing or sneezing.”
Mount Desert Island Hospital CEO and President Arthur J. Blank also urges the public to wear face coverings.
“As the state works toward expanding our testing capacity and contact tracing initiatives,” Blank said this week, “these measures — along with proper hand and respiratory hygiene and social and physical distancing — are the best tools we currently have to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Ann Lee of Trenton isn’t taking any chances. She and her husband, Doug, don’t leave their home without their masks on.
“I certainly don’t want to get COVID-19,” she said after making a transaction via the drive-up service at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust’s Ellsworth branch. “Or, if there are germs floating about, I don’t want to catch them.”