By Sen. Angus King
Friends, the challenges created by the coronavirus epidemic are unlike anything that we’ve seen in the last 100 years. The situation is changing rapidly, but this much is clear: we all need to change our behaviors and adopt new approaches to protect ourselves and our loved ones. As I push for a number of policies and remedies in the Senate, there are a few simple and immediate things we can all do to help slow the spread of coronavirus in our communities.
1. If you’re sick, stay home. Probably the most obvious step you can take, but it’s so important that it’s worth repeating. The most common symptoms of coronavirus are a fever, a cough and a sore throat — if you have any of these symptoms, stay home. Don’t try to go to work, don’t head over to a friend’s house. I know it’s inconvenient, but it’s vital.
2. If you’re worried you might have coronavirus, call your doctor. Don’t just go into your doctor’s office without giving them a heads up. Call your doctor first, tell them what symptoms you’re experiencing, and work with them on a plan. This isn’t about making you wait — it’s about preventing spread, especially to the medical professionals who we’ll need to get us through this crisis. If you can’t reach your doctor or don’t have one, call the Maine coronavirus hotline at 2-1-1 to connect with someone who can lay out next steps.
3. Even if you’re not sick, stay home as much as you can. This is a major shift from the way Maine handles crises; in our state, we respond to emergencies by coming together and helping. However, one of the reasons this disease is spreading so rapidly is because some people who are infected with the coronavirus do not display symptoms and don’t realize they may be spreading it inadvertently. By staying home, you’re doing the right thing for your community by preventing yourself from possibly unwittingly spreading this disease or having it unwittingly spread to you. Telework where possible, and avoid large gatherings.
4. Wash your hands — a lot. This one is simple, but it’s so important. Wash your hands often, for 20 seconds, with soap and hot water. If you’re not sure how to measure 20 seconds, sing a song — if you sing “Sixteen Counties” on the slow side, you’ll be all set!
5. Don’t shake hands! Elbow bumps can work, or a hand on your heart — but it’s most important to keep your distance when greeting people. Personally, I’ve started to adapt Spock’s hand greeting. Figure “live long and prosper” is the right sentiment for this moment.
6. Limit visits to nursing homes. Again, something that feels counterintuitive — why would we not want to check in on our most vulnerable citizens during a crisis? The fact is more contacts with vulnerable people means more opportunities for them to catch the disease. We should all be checking on our older loved ones, but for now, let’s do it by calling them on the phone or using video-chatting on your computer or phone. If you have elderly neighbors or loved ones, check on them remotely, and see if they need help picking up groceries or other pressing needs.
7. Think about your local businesses. Order take-out or delivery from restaurants; a call to your bookstore can get you a book as quickly as any on-line service; local retailers can put items aside for you for pick-up. This period is going to be especially tough for them; a little extra love now can go a long way toward ensuring they’ll be there when this is behind us.
8. When in doubt, listen to the experts. The most-up-to-date information and guidance is constantly evolving, so it’s important to check for updates. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Governor are monitoring this situation closely, so check in on the Maine CDC’s website and call 2-1-1 if you have questions. Also — the national CDC has collected many helpful resources and guidelines at coronavirus.gov.
This is an unprecedented moment, at least in recent memory, but we can always find lessons in history. And the key takeaway is: There’s almost no such thing as “being too careful” and you don’t want to look back at this moment with second thoughts. When the Spanish Flu struck in 1918, cities across America took different approaches to combat this disease. St. Louis acted decisively, canceling a pre-planned parade honoring America’s victory in World War I, while Philadelphia allowed its victory parade to continue. In the following month, Philadelphia saw more than 10,000 deaths from the Spanish Flu; St. Louis, only 700. In hindsight, the decision seems obvious. I’m hopeful that if we can take these sometimes uncomfortable or inconvenient steps now, we can look back and know that we did everything possible to protect our state. Be safe, and stay healthy — we will get through this, together.
Angus King has served as Maine’s junior United States senator since 2013.