Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
There’s no question, the rain seemed to make it even worse.
In a week that seemed saturated with news that was bad, and sometimes frightening — the governor’s stay-at-home order, issued on Tuesday, or the fact that Maine keeps seeing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases — the torrential downpours and cold weather cast an additional pall on cooped-up residents all around the state.
“I, for one, would be enjoying it a lot more if the weather was nicer,” Bob MacGregor of Belfast said, tongue only slightly in cheek, of being home-bound during this particular week of the pandemic.
Even without the dismal weather, the numbers were bad enough on their own.
On March 27, the state confirmed 211 positive cases of coronavirus in 11 counties. One person — a Cumberland County man in his 80s — had died after testing positive for the disease. Those numbers have grown sharply. Maine is now counting 432 confirmed positive cases spread across 15 counties, with a total of nine deaths attributed or connected to the disease. More than 17 percent of those who tested positive are health care workers, according to Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I recognize that these are difficult, disorienting and unsettling times,” he said. “For many of us, we live in a world where science fiction, right now, is actually science fact … It’s almost as if we’re living in a movie that was written, cast and directed by our literary friend up in Bangor.”
But that doesn’t mean the plot must follow a Stephen King-esque arc, Shah said, adding that there are positive steps that can be taken to slow the spread of the disease and keep health care facilities from being overwhelmed.
That’s the idea behind Gov. Janet Mills’ order on Tuesday for Mainers to stay at home through April, other than shopping for necessities or going to essential jobs. Dine-in restaurants, public-facing businesses and social gatherings of more than 10 already had been closed or banned. The new order significantly restricts the number of people allowed in stores, and also calls for larger retailers such as Walmart to install protective shields between customers and clerks.
“This virus will continue to sicken people across our state. Our cases will only grow, and more people will die,” Mills said Tuesday. “I say this to be direct, to be as honest with you as I can because saving lives will depend on us.”
Mainers scrambled to figure out what they’re still allowed to do under the new order. People may leave their homes to do laundry, to pick up meals and material needed for remote learning, to care for family, friends, pets and livestock elsewhere and to access medical or behavioral care, among other exceptions. Outdoor exercise is still OK, including hiking and fishing, although everyone is asked to be safe and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from those not in their households while doing these activities.
On Friday, Mills issued another executive order, this one mandating quarantine restrictions on travelers arriving in Maine, regardless of their state of residence. It’s a 14-day self-quarantine for those who come here. Additionally, the governor instructed people not to travel to Maine if they have symptoms of COVID-19. She advises them not to travel to the state if they’re coming from cities or regions that are identified as hotspots of the disease , and in order to deter travel, lodging operations have been suspended — including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, campgrounds and short-term rentals. Lodging can, however, be provided for vulnerable populations, such as people at risk of domestic violence, health care workers and other workers deemed necessary to support critical operations.
Already, some Mainers have taken matters into their own hands. On March 27, police were called to Vinalhaven Island after a small group of residents allegedly forced a group of out-of-staters to quarantine by cutting a tree down and blocking their driveway. The incident made national headlines, but it didn’t take long before island officials pushed back, saying that it wasn’t representative of what’s really happening on the island as the tight-knit year-round community comes together during the global pandemic.
“To have those stories out there at a time like this only incites fear. We’re trying to comfort people to some extent and come together as a community,” Vinalhaven Town Manager Andrew Dorr said Tuesday.
Weekly Maine jobless claims surged to a new record on Thursday, as the coronavirus continued to put stress on the economy. The hardest-hit sectors so far have been in food service, lodging, retail trade and manufacturing. Bath Iron Works saw only a third of the shipyard’s manufacturing employees show up for work on Friday, April 3 on the first shift after a second employee tested positive for COVID-19. And some state employees are worried that their departments are not taking enough precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as units run short on sanitation supplies and state workers test positive. A longtime Maine Department of Transportation employee, a man in his 60s, was confirmed last weekend to have died from COVID-19.
But some of the news has been more hopeful — even inspiring. In Orono, a scientist who is the former head of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute says that an extract from lobsters might also be suitable for treating COVID-19. On Swan’s Island, the director of the tiny community’s sole medical facility said she is committed to keeping the clinic open during the pandemic — even though she has stage-4 ovarian cancer. As well, Maine doctors have been taking a DIY approach to make up for the shortage of medical gear, including creating a simple plastic box to place over patients that could give them more protection against the contagion.
And as Mainers work to figure out this strange “new normal,” they are also showing off their creativity and commonsense. From ideas about how to celebrate birthdays during the pandemic, to the best ways to save energy while spending so much time at home, it’s clear that life must, and will, go on.
And Shah, the CDC head, agrees.
“Unlike a dream, where your subconscious is in control, or like a work of fiction, where the author is in control, we are in a situation where we are in control,” he said Friday. “Even though it may not feel that way, we are the ones who are writing the script right now. We are the ones who can control the arc of the story by doing particular things, like physically distancing ourselves. Like washing our hands. Like covering our coughs and making sure we all stay healthy. We, all of us in Maine, get to write the next chapter.”