This spring, it has sometimes seemed as if public health and economic health were pulling governments in different directions. As soon as governments began suspending activities, closing businesses and schools and curtailing travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19, debates about the economic fallout began.
Some residents worried that not enough restrictions would be in place, that cruise ships or the Fourth of July would bring too many people too fast and our limited health care system would be overrun. Others said lives, not just livelihoods, could be at stake if the public health rules keep too many tourists away and too many businesses fail. Certainly, the strain on the unemployment system and on state and local government budgets will force hard choices for years to come.
That’s why it was such good news when leaders of Mount Desert Island Hospital, Healthy Acadia and The Jackson Laboratory began to think together about a roadmap for reopening that could demonstrate a potential alternative to the quarantine requirement and do a better job of protecting both public and economic health.
Managers of the MDI towns and local Chamber of Commerce leaders, state legislators and the superintendent of Acadia National Park also joined the effort. Rep. Brian Hubbell and State Sen. Louis Luchini helped carry the discussion to Augusta.
State officials were sure to appreciate, Bar Harbor Town Councilor Jill Goldthwait said, “that somebody was actually suggesting something as opposed to just hating everything.”
Last week the group released its proposal: deployment of good-quality face masks to businesses, symptom disclaimers for visitors at lodging businesses, access to symptomatic testing for all, contact tracing for non-residents, asymptomatic ‘sentinel’ testing for a voluntary sample of local residents and employees and paid leave and support for employees who test positive.
Community testing already underway includes asymptomatic testing of all Jackson Laboratory employees and all assisted living facility staff — that’s 1,500 community members right there — as well as all symptomatic cases.
Governor Mills’ plan announced Monday relies on visitor testing, which was a disappointment for some lodging businesses, but it also highlights the importance of local efforts like this one.
Asked whether the sentinel testing system could also be applied to schools in the fall, MDI Hospital COO Chrissy Maguire said, “that’s really the vision we’re trying to get to.”
We are very proud of how these community leaders are applying their collective brainpower, expertise, insight and relationships to help assure that MDI remains a safe place to live and visit.
As former presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan were both fond of saying, it’s amazing what you can accomplish as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.