May 11, 2020
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We need to prevent people from communities with COVID-19 from coming to rural Maine

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A sign at the Prides Corner Drive-In movie theater in Westbrook announces it will open soon.

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The rural reopening plan in Maine will gradually lift some limitations on certain businesses in counties where virus community transmission does not exist. Those counties with limitations being lifted are Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc.

The state’s partnership with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc. to expand testing, coupled with increased resources directed to contact tracing, is what is allowing Maine to move forward on the plan to reopen, according to the governor’s office. A Kaiser Health official said Maine is now second only to Rhode Island in positioning itself to fight COVID-19 because of our expanded testing ability. Testing capability should be on line by the end of this week.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

The expansion of testing is incredible news. Before the testing is in place, it follows that people from counties with documented community transmission should not be circulating in counties where community transmission is nonexistent. The rural reopening plan, however, does not make this idea explicitly clear nor include restrictions to prevent this from happening. Without this guidance and restriction, the plan may put people at unnecessary risk for the short term.

As Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated at a press briefing late last week, it will take a time to get systems in place where that expansion in testing will trickle down to have an impact. In the meantime, under the rural reopening plan, people from counties with documented community transmission may travel to counties where community transmission is nonexistent and visit retail outlets and restaurants.

Therefore, myself and other residents of Maine respectfully request that Gov. Janet Mills address this. One suggestion is to add a short-term restriction to county travel to the reopening plan just until the expansion of testing is in place and making an impact. We specifically suggest a 14-day quarantine for travel to another county with an exception for essential workers and those caring for loved ones.

This idea mirrors the safety precautions being utilized by the governor’s 14-day quarantine for travel into the state of Maine. To be effective, a change to the new plan should be added swiftly.

I am aware that restrictions on county travel may be very short lived. However, for the time being until this expansion on testing is actually in place, it makes sense to employ county travel restrictions to ensure the rollout of the rural reopening plan does not set us back on virus transmission, as well as provide reassurance to residents. Vacation destination towns in Maine may be particularly affected by a failure to add this restriction for the short-term.

I hope Mills and Shah will agree to take the simple precaution of adding a restriction on county travel to the rural reopening plan to help achieve its intended purpose and not set us back on virus transmission. I feel confident they will receive wide support for this common sense addition. We are grateful to Mills and Shah for their leadership.

In the meantime, a petition is circulating collecting support for this idea, located at change.org/Restrict_Travel_Rural_Reopening_Plan.

Amy Morley, a resident of Lamoine and Ellsworth, works as a fundraising data specialist for a local nonprofit organization and recently served on the board of directors for a community theater.

 


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