State of Maine: Will we pass the test?

The days of following the science are gone. Where once we were horrified at a COVID-19 death toll in the hundreds, now it seems to be a price we are willing to pay to get back to “normal” as deaths pass 80,000. 

That, of course, is as blanket a generalization as all the other blanket generalizations being bandied about. But there is something that boggles the mind about a virus that has killed over 80,000 Americans while some of us still demand our ice cream cones, cruise ships and weekends away. 

The first principle of reopening our economy was to hold a turn until, as the federal “Opening Up America Again” plan put it, we saw a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.” The state initially adopted the same metric.   

Despite businesses storming the barricades, Governor Janet Mills held firm until April 28 when she issued the “Re-Starting Maine’s Economy” plan, softening opening criteria from a 14-day case decline to the “use of epidemiological data, such as case trends and hospitalization rates, to inform decisions about the appropriate time to lift restrictions.” As scientific criteria began to fade, so did the willingness to accept stringent regulations to protect public health. 

Stage 1 of the governor’s plan allows for the May opening of health care for “time-sensitive” conditions and permits participation in certain outdoor activities.  There was also the surprise opening of barber shops and hair salons, services which necessitate not only physical proximity but downright physical contact.  

The Re-Starting plan relaxes restrictions on various segments of the Maine economy on a monthly basis. It continues to call for tracking of documented cases and hospitalizations, maintaining that “decisions will be determined by public health metrics.” Yet, though we have not achieved the required metrics, here we are, reopening. 

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Governor’s plan is the quarantine. There are two orders under which Mainers are required to restrict activity. One is the Stay-at-Home order requiring all Mainers to keep to their own dooryards except for designated “essential activities” (grocery store, pharmacy, medical appointments). As of May, the stay-at-home order still applies to “at-risk” people. 

The other is the quarantine, which applies to all people entering the state, whether Mainers or from away, and is absolute. At the April 30th Maine CDC briefing, Director Nirav Shah was asked the difference between stay at home and quarantine. The former, said Dr. Shah, means limited activity. The latter means stay in. At the following day’s briefing, he clarified further. Quarantine means bring all your own provisions and stay in for the full 14 days. 

Trouble is, who comes to Maine for 14 days? Maine residents, yes, and summer people too, and both those groups could actually quarantine. But tourists? Most stay for a matter of days or a week—two at the most. Their vacations would be over before they cleared quarantine. Opinions vary on whether the tourist response would be to stay home or to come and ignore the quarantine. Either one is not the desired result. 

Enter District Attorney Matt Foster who, in a recent news article, issued his own interpretation of “quarantine.” Citing Governor Mills’ Executive Order 34 issued April 3, he says the language is “pretty clear.” Yes, you can go out for “essential services” even when in quarantine. Summer returnees trying to comply with local rules are buffaloed. Bring everything you need and don’t go out–or not.  

Then there is the question of enforcement. Between the people already coming to Vacationland and spring fever amongst the locals, the cops are already busy. According to local news reports, recent Hancock County offenses ranged from probation violations to theft, drug trafficking to harassment to OUI. On MDI, frolicking motorcyclists ended up with one of them going off the end of the Bar Harbor town pier. Also reported were a loud party, a car-deer accident, a 3 a.m. singer on the Village Green and a woodchuck and a beaver strolling the roads (not together). 

Two MDI departments cooperated to identify the proper jurisdiction of a bicycle found on the roadside. A runover mailbox was reported in Southwest Harbor. “Strange happenings” were reported near a Trenton business. Now anxious residents are calling in about people without face masks or people standing too close together. We know our local police will do their best, but it won’t be easy. 

We are still critically short on testing. President Donald Trump said: “Anybody who wants a test can get a test,” meaning: “If the president wants a test, he can get a test.” The rest of us, not so much. The test for us is whether we can comply with restrictions long enough to make a difference or if we will cave, undoing all the careful staying at home we have practiced so far.  



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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