State of Maine: Welcome to Maine — now grab a mask



The world is upside down. Once a global leader, the United States has turned in the worst performance on the planet in managing the coronavirus. Countries that have done far better are getting back on track, starting up their economies and beginning to welcome visitors, as long as they are not from the United States. 

 

Weeks ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, warned thatreopening the economy too early was “going to backfire.” At the same time as cases increase at an alarming rate in many states, businesses are hastening to reopen. “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” said Fauci. 

 

He was right. Now states that opened too much, too soon are experiencing stunning rises in caseloads. Their governors are furiously dialing back on what sort of activity is permitted, but the horse has left the barn. 

 

Along with most other states, once we got past the early, scary days of “What the heck?” Mainers chafed at the new restrictions. Kneedeep in public health information, some of which was conflicting or eventually proved to be inaccurate, Governor Janet Mills’ administration put the lid on early and lifted it cautiously.  

 

Executive orders were revised, there were different rules for different businesses and opening dates shifted from week to week. Businesses scrambled to keep up and plan for a safe and orderly opening. Questions were rampant about how to implement and enforce the Governor’s orders. But overall, our case rate stayed fairly low. 

 

A tug of war began as spring days passed and downtowns remained empty. Chambers of Commerce pressed the Governor to open, though plenty of businesses were prepared to hold back, fearing for their staffs and their customers. Residents of tourist towns anxiously looked for people from away to arrive, bringing with them the virus that is so much more prevalent in the southern New England region. 

 

Now we are on the cusp of full-on summer. Outofstate plates abound. Al fresco dining is the order of the day, with sidewalks, parking lots and parking spaces becoming impromptu street cafes. There is nothing like the usual number of visitors, but there may be enough to keep many businesses from utter devastation. 

 

The rubber has hit the road as lodging owners grapple with how to check on the quarantine and testing status of their guests. Shop owners, backed by the state, put up signs requiring masks in their stores and are confronted by angry customers who sail inside mask-free and verbally assault anyone who dares ask them to don one. Employees who are barely adults themselves are berated and belittled by putative grown-ups who know more about public health than theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

 

What is up with that? The great mask debate has become the stuff of treatises on mask psychology. Is it a manhood so fragile that you cannot abide being asked to wear a mask? Is it about how you look in one? Is it that they’re hot, or make your glasses steam up? Or is it the sheer joy of picking a fight with someone who can’t fight back? 

 

People have made up fake documents claiming a medical reason they can’t wear a mask. They have insulted workers, alarmed other customers, thrown merchandise on the floor and stormed out without paying for their coffee-to-go. This behavior doth not a superhero make. You look like an idiot. 

 

And all this about the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Mask refuseniks cite the early days of the pandemic when the guidance on masks was inconsistent. That is no longer the case. Masks work.  

 

And another thing: Who walks into a store and lights a cigarette? When have you last seen someone in a store without a shirt? Why do we not scream about our constitutional rights over a sign that says we must wear shoes? Yet we do not. We put out our cig, put on our shirt and shoes, and shop. But preventing the spread of a lethal virus with a mask is somehow un-American? 

 

Exhausted by the isolation, the risk and the rage? A news story this week might point to a solution. Get thee to Ellsworth and climb a tall tree. A crowd may gather; pay no attention. People who know and love creatures like you will show up and get you safely down, and you will be “relocated quite a distance away in an area (you) will enjoy.” Maybe Canada, or New Zealand. 

 

If you’re a Mainer, remember that Dirigo means “I lead.” If you’re not, welcome to Maine. We’re glad you’re here, but don’t be a knucklehead. Wear a mask. You look wicked good in it. You really do. 

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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