Maine in the time of coronavirus: questions abound

Just as Vacationland was thinking about painting signs and washing sidewalks, disaster struck. COVID-19 has reached Maine and turned our lives upside down.

The first concern must be for the health of both residents and travelers. Just how that health is best protected is debatable. It must be utterly devastating to be the owner of a tourism business to face the specter of empty streets, closed restaurants and cancellation after cancellation in hotels, and the bills keep coming.

But it is also devastating to have a loved one — or yourself — diagnosed with this disease. We are in a complete state of information overload, with emails flying fast and furious and “guidance” coming from many sources. Credible information is arriving with such frequency that it is a full-time job to keep up with it.

And then there are the kids. We were looking at record levels of anxiety and depression among our children before all this started. What now? They are home 24/7, or they should be. What’s a parent to do? There are lots of resources online for the kiddos but not everyone has access to broadband. If you don’t have to work, you can stay home and take charge, but without a paycheck. If you do have work, you get a paycheck but who takes care of the kids?

The prevailing wisdom at the top of the public health food chain is that the faster and harder we lock down, the greater success we will have in limiting the spread of the virus. Yes, it is tempting to think we can hand sanitize and social distance our way through this, but our evolving understanding of this disease does not support that.

People who have no symptoms can spread the disease. People who have fully recovered from it can still shed virus. It can lurk on surfaces for hours to days. Small droplets can hover in the air for — we’re not sure how long.

On some recommendations there is widespread agreement from all credible sources. Wash your hands. Stay 6 feet away from others. Cover your cough and sneeze. Stay home if you’re sick. On other things, not so much. School closures? Once the virus is prevalent in an area, whether diagnosed or not, it may be too late.

Dine-in food service was shut down in our state until midnight on March 31 by order of Governor Janet Mills. Many restaurants shifted to take-out options. The Governor pressed “public-facing” businesses (malls, gyms, casinos, movie theaters) to close for the same period. Gatherings of more than 10 people (unless work-related) are prohibited.

Travel? Not recommended on airplanes or cruise ships where passengers are unavoidably in close contact with one another. Otherwise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides only a list of “things to consider” if you decide to take to the open road. “Crowded travel settings” may increase your chances of getting coronavirus. What is the prevalence of COVID-19 at your destination? Will your trip include close contact with others? Do you have underlying conditions that would complicate your recovery should you contract coronavirus?

Travelers are opting out of travel plans in droves. Planes, trains, buses? Increasingly empty. Hotels? Cancellations, big time. But in this “safer at home” environment the National Park Service issued a statement encouraging Americans to “recreate and embrace nature” in our national parks.

Maine is all about embracing nature, but is this the right time? With all dine-in food service closed, day-trippers to Acadia will likely turn to the local grocery store for supplies. Though stores have made a valiant effort to keep shelves stocked, supplies are spotty. The alternative for locals is a drive to Ellsworth in search of the basics. Visitors should know that all public restrooms in Bar Harbor are closed.

In Ellsworth, the city has closed public access to City Hall, the police and fire departments and the city garage. Outside agency meetings will not be permitted at City Hall. The Boy Scouts diverted money raised for a trip to Gettysburg to a local effort to shop for people in need. Scouts, we’re proud of you!

Now the first U.S. senator, Rand Paul, has tested positive. A statement from his office said the senator was “tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events.” Extensive travel and events? Apparently Sen. Paul does not feel constrained by the recommendations for the rest of us. He was reportedly swimming in the Senate pool on the same day he was diagnosed.

Hello? The Senate pool? Worry not about our U.S. senators. If they need tests, they will be tested. If they need treatment, they will be treated. We are confident that they have toilet paper. And when the stress gets to them, they have the Senate pool.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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