Editorial: A tragedy unfolds

On another island, not so far away, there are 61 residents that call Island Nursing Home in Deer Isle home. Staff there went to great lengths to protect those in their care, but it was not enough during a pandemic. What was first reported as a few cases of COVID-19 spread to more than half the population. Then people started to die. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families affected. It is also a very real reminder of how quickly things can change with COVID-19 and how one case can become three, and then 10 or more.

The outbreak was traced to an asymptomatic employee believed to have acquired the virus locally. While visitors have been kept out of nursing homes, workers have families to go home to and lives to live. No matter what precautions they personally take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, those around them might not be taking the same. When it comes to infectious disease, we’re all connected.

In guidance for preventing spread of the virus, Northern Light Health states, “The first thing you need to do is buy into the idea that you too have a role to play in saving lives and keeping your community safe.” The odds statistically may be in your favor, but the young and fit too can get very sick and even die. And even if you don’t get so much as a tickle in your throat, you could be part of the chain of human interactions ending in some other poor soul in an ICU bed.

In all the conspiracy theories and tirades against mask wearing and social distancing, there is a frightening lack of empathy for those most vulnerable to COVID-19. If the coronavirus were killing babies and children at the scale it is killing older Americans, this nation’s response would have looked very different. What wouldn’t we have done to prevent a quarter million dead children? Are older people more expendable?

One in five Hancock County residents is age 65 or older, and many would rightly say, “Who you callin’ old?” The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years and many of us will live well beyond that. A life cut short is always a tragedy.

And age isn’t the only risk factor. According to the 2019 Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment Report, one in four Hancock County adults is obese. Twenty-one percent are smokers. One in 10 have asthma. Nearly 8 percent have diabetes. COVID-19 patients who are poor, rural and/or of color tend to have worse outcomes than those who are not.

And it’s not just our people who are vulnerable. It’s our health care system. A continued, growing surge in Hancock County could overwhelm our hospitals as it has overwhelmed Island Nursing Home. Let this tragedy be a wakeup call. These aren’t just numbers, they are neighbors.

Americans born between 1925 and 1945 are sometimes referred to as the Silent Generation. We must not be silent as they and others die.

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