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As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassed 100 in Maine early this week, the message from the state’s top doctor became more stern: Act like COVID-19 is in your community, because it probably is.
“I would like to ask everyone to live your life as if COVID-19 is already in your community. … what we know right now is that even if COVID-19 has not been confirmed in your county, it’s likely there,” Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said during a Monday briefing.
After Shah’s warning, Gov. Janet Mills took further steps Tuesday, issuing an order that required non-essential businesses to close their facilities that are open to the public. She also ordered the closure of non-essential businesses sites that require more than 10 people to work in one space where employees cannot work at a safe distance from one another.
In addition, the governor asked stores that remain open to limit the number of customers in the store at one time, to offer shopping hours for those who are high risk, to mark off safe distances at checkouts and to sanitize high-touch areas such as shopping carts.
“Stay away from other people,” the governor pleaded.
This is a prudent and necessary step as previous orders and recommendations have not kept people from interacting at unsafe distances.
The point of these orders is to stop people from spreading coronavirus through what is known as community spread. If fewer people come into contact with one another, the spread of the disease can be slowed. Slowing the spread — not stopping it — will allow hospitals time to prepare for and treat the thousands of Americans expected at their doors.
If the spread of coronavirus is not slowed, hospitals will be easily overwhelmed and some people may die unnecessarily. Italy is a gruesome example of this happening, in real time.
To avoid such a scenario, as many Mainers — and Americans — as possible should stay put, at home, if possible. They should do this with, or without, a government mandate to do so.
The Bangor City Council deserves credit for strengthening and clarifying a city-wide order to close restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses where people gather. It also closed bookstores, craft stores, nail and hair salons and other businesses that didn’t sell essential products, like groceries, or provide essential services.
“We felt a lot of businesses have done voluntary closures, which we appreciate, but at a certain point we felt like we needed to do more,” Bangor council chair Clare Davitt said on Monday.
Social distancing was the buzzword last week. But, it appears, many people don’t fully understand what that means.
Yes, it means no more handshakes, keeping six feet (or more) away from others and avoiding gatherings of people.
But, it seems, many still think it is safe to be out and about and around other people, as long as they are “socially distant.” Beaches in York, for example, were closed because too many people congregated there over the weekend. Bar Harbor has asked tourists to stay home for the same reason.
Too many people are still going to stores, often getting closer than within six feet from other shoppers. With bars closed, people are having parties at home.
So, it seems, social distancing should be replaced with a clearer, more familiar, plea: Stay home. Go out only when necessary, to buy groceries and food from local restaurants, who are operating through take-out and delivery, to visit a doctor (who you have called beforehand to confirm that an in-person visit is necessary) or to gas up your car (which should be a rare occurrence if you aren’t out much).
We realize many workers are still expected to show up at an office, manufacturing plant, warehouse or other business operation. They deserve our gratitude. So, when you are out, be especially thankful to all the people who are working to keep us safe and well supplied. That includes health care workers, bus drivers, grocery and convenience store clerks, chefs and restaurant workers, first responders, bankers, postal workers, delivery drivers, journalists, snow plow drivers and others. A little kindness can go a long way in times like these.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease