State of Maine: We cannot be divided by this virus

The moment of truth has arrived. We have been socked in the gut by the coronavirus, scrambled through disbelief and fear to develop a new lifestyle, and now? We’re sick of it. 


We are still afraid. We are peering at the eyes above a face mask, trying to figure out if it’s a friend or a stranger under there. We are wiping, spraying and sanitizing our way through takeout orders and grocery runs, and we have mastered the swerve as we pass others on the sidewalk. Through all of it we are still asking ourselves: Are we really doing this? 


The number of cases and deaths surges upward, state by state, and then We down in uneven stepsOutside, the temperature creeps up in the same fashion. There is a haze of green in the treetops. Forsythia and daffodils bloom. Cardinals sing in the treetops, tolling in a mate. They come to the bird feeders where a male will husk a sunflower seed, fly to a nearby female, and delicately pass the seed to her beak. 


The arrival of spring makes our separation from life as we used to know it both easier to bear and more painful. We can abandon hats, scarves and mittens and take to the streets or parks in a layer or two of fleece. We can find a nook out of the wind and read, or just sit and soak up the fresh air. Yet though we are able to be out, we still can’t take on spring the way we did before. 


The end of school excitement, the opening of baseball season, graduations, weddings, barbecues, all are off limits in any recognizable way. We can make some of them work under the new rules, but they are a mere shadow of what they once were. 


At first, the novel coronavirus drew a novel response. We were pioneers in the land of contagion. We learned how to conduct a sanitized version of our lives, how to dress it up with Zoom-tails and Zoom-tinis and video dinner parties. How to play games with our grandchildren on FaceTime. How to make six different kinds of bread. 


But we are not a culture with a long attention span. So now, rules be damned, we are each making our own decisions about how we will live. Some of us will wash hands, wear masks and stay home. Some of us will gather and go out and urge our state to open up, for heaven’s sake, you’re killing us. 


At both the federal and state levels, there are plans as to how we should go about returning to normal. In some ways they are similar. Each claims to be science-based. Each has “gating criteria” that determine when it is time to begin to relax restrictions. Each has phases that guide how businesses and individuals move through the reopening process.  


But the populace is restive. Definition? “Unable to keep still or silent and becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially because of impatience, dissatisfaction or boredom.” That’s us. Divides are opening. 


Many in the business community want reopening to happen faster, with fewer restrictions. Others are not so sure we want to fling wide the doors to tourism. Political unity to fight the pandemic was short-lived. Maine Republicans are challenging the Governor’s emergency authority. Be careful what you wish for, Republicans. Take that authority away and she will not be able to spring quickly to the aid of communities in need. 


To those railing against Governor Janet Mills’ plan, we must consider this. The plan is not for today. We have figured out how to adapt to the constraints, but mix in thousands of people coming from all over the country to a “safe” place and the equilibrium we have established falls to pieces. 


We will be overwhelmed by numbers, and by visitors from places where the infection rate is much higher than it is in Maine. That is what Governor Mills was planning for. Not for today, but for next month. Does it chafe? Will it hurt? Yes. Will it work? We can only hope so. We simply cannot anticipate a normal summer. What we should hope for is a summer that provides a slow but steady flow of income to the businesses that are the basis of our economy.  


The Governor put out a plan that gets us through the summer, but before we pick up the pitchforks and head for Augusta, remember this. She and her cabinet are working 24/7 to find ways to adjust her initial plan to our benefit. Life is changing, and we are learning faster than we ever have. The plan we are looking at today is different than what we will see in two, or four, or six weeks.  


It is an enormous challenge to businesses to work with the degree of uncertainty they are faced with today. But if the tourist businesses in Hancock County want the support of their local communities to get the most value they can out of this season, they must acknowledge the other side of the coin. People are scared. People are dying. We cannot let ourselves be divided by this virus. The best summer for all of us will be one we can all live with. 

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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