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.
As daylight slowly lengthens following a month of economic freefall for employers and employees alike, Mainers of all persuasions are eager to know what the prudent path is to getting back to work.
So, not surprisingly, I have had emails recently from constituents suggesting that Maine should ease restrictions on business closures and social distancing.
I am confident that everyone would like to return to some semblance of normal economic activity as soon as possible. The current consequence to all of our livelihoods is severe and uncertainty about when to expect any sort of recovery only heightens everyone’s anxiety.
To date, in just three weeks 35 people in Maine have died from this virus. In just over six weeks nearly 40,000 have died in the US. And since January, more than 160,000 people have died worldwide. These numbers all continue to increase.
Until we can know the arc of this pandemic and can contain its spread, there simply can be no return to business as usual.
The hard truth is that no simple intermediate trade-off of eased restrictions will allow our economy to rejuvenate at the cost of people continuing to contract a terminal illness in the course of ordinary business. Only willful ignorance can hold otherwise.
In a state as reliant on tourism as Maine is, global problems are our problems. We cannot isolate ourselves and somehow independently prosper as this virus crosses all political borders. There simply is no route back to prosperity without first curtailing the damage. Until a vaccine is developed, quarantines, closures, and distancing remain our only tools.
Evidently a significant percentage of this virus is transmitted by individuals who do not exhibit symptoms. This means that, without comprehensive testing and tracking, it is not possible to ascertain the extent of the spread of the contagion even in areas where mortality appears relatively low and mitigation through business closures and social distancing appears to be dampening the spread.
In the long term, vaccine development is the critical path to return to full economic prosperity.
But, in the shorter term, the path to some form of partial recovery will require a lot more testing for the virus and tracking immunity. Until the capacity for testing is significantly expanded, we simply must keep our respective distance. Otherwise we almost certainly will accelerate both transmission and deaths, which will worsen the damage and lengthen economic devastation.
Recognizing this, the federal government should be fully dedicated to more testing everywhere. That is the only reliable route to re-opening businesses and allowing people to regain their livelihoods.
As our country — and indeed much of the world — was woefully unprepared for this pandemic, we now need real partnership between states and the federal government to accelerate the manufacturing of tests and to expedite their distribution and administration.
Until we know the true spread of infection and can map and track subsequent immunity, there is simply no possible way to return to the stability of normal business. Sound facts and science must direct our course, not shortsighted fear and desperation.
As Mainers, we can bear short-term hardship. But let us not prolong and worsen this collective sacrifice by prematurely lowering our safeguards.
Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor represents District 135 in the Maine House of Representatives.