By Gail Marshall
Maine is rapidly opening to tourism, and, even as this season will be unusual, one thing will not change: the year–round community will be outnumbered numerous times over by an ever–changing cast of seasonal residents, tourists and seasonal employees.
We have done a remarkable job keeping ourselves relatively safe in the past three months. Everyone has painfully sacrificed so much to make that possible. We have proven that we can outsmart the virus, but the virus has only one job to do and it’s very good at it.
Unfortunately, Hancock County recently has had several new confirmed cases of COVID-19. This disease has not gone away. It is still at concerning levels in southern Maine, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Cases are on the upswing in 22 other states including California, Arizona, the Carolinas, Florida and Texas, all states ahead of us in “reopening;” many with relatively low adherence to public health measures. Hot spots have moved out of some big cites, and are now also flaring in smaller communities. Currently almost 1,000 people are dying and there are as many as 30,000 new cases every day across this country. We have by far the most abysmal record for COVID-19 deaths and illnesses, and concomitant economic damage of any fully developed economy. There is no discernible effective national strategy or sustained effort to get this under control, as there certainly should be. States and municipalities are pretty much left on their own to do the best they can. So we need to approach this challenge not with fear, but with humility, cooperation and determination.
There are incessant complaints from some members of the business community about public health restrictions, most notably the 14–day out-of-state quarantine or the alternative negative COVID-19 test, and limitations on occupancy rates in hotels. Some do not intend to require customers to wear masks.
It is estimated that 20 percent of those with the virus are contagious but show no symptoms. Others are usually contagious for an average of 2.5 days before the onset of noticeable symptoms. The more crowded an environment, the greater the risk of infection.
Other communities and countries have been able to prevent or reverse the devastating spread of this virus by the expectation of universal mask wearing while in public, respect for distancing, avoidance of large crowds and by providing ubiquitous public health education, including signage in busier areas, effective access to and adoption of elevated levels of hygiene, regular symptom checks, ready access to testing for anyone with possible symptoms, routine testing of groups of individuals, including workers in stores, hotels and restaurants to look for signs of the virus’s presence, and rapid contact tracing and quarantine of anyone-resident or tourist-with the illness or who has been significantly exposed to someone ill.
There are no known effective alternatives at this time.
Working up to these requirements will be difficult, especially if large numbers of tourists attempt to flout the quarantine or other requirements. But none of this is an excuse for anyone in the tourism business to shirk participation in these efforts. For example, if you allow people into your business who are not wearing a mask, or if you don’t take seriously the need to determine if someone checking in really has tested negative and otherwise appears to be healthy, you are creating a high risk environment for your patrons, your workers and your community.
It is time for everyone currently engaged in complaining to stop. Stop pushing for fewer public health measures. Stop engaging in a circular firing squad with the state or politicizing things like mask wearing. Stop acting like public health measures are the problem. The virus is the problem. Assist and expect all your customers and fellow business owners to treat the virus and the community with respect. The more universal the expectation, the easier it will be. Work together with health providers and other experts to have as successful a season as possible while keeping the virus at bay.
The entire MDI community wants you to thrive. We also expect you to leave us at the end of the season as you found us: relatively virus free.
Gail Marshall is a resident of Mount Desert