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Republicans in the Maine Legislature didn’t offer up a plan to “save the tourism season” on Monday. They offered what would be the state’s surrender in the fight against COVID-19.
Maine has avoided some of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic — at least so far — because Gov. Janet Mills has acted quickly, aggressively and thoughtfully, following the advice of public health officials and scientists.
Republican lawmakers are willing to bet the progress the state has made at risk for the hope, and that’s really all that it is, that if we reduce restrictions on out of state visitors, the tourism industry might be able to recoup lost revenue.
It’s a gamble that the state can’t afford to make.
“What the Republicans unveiled … is not a set of recommendations to salvage our tourism industry. It is a Donald Trump-style assault on the very public health measures that have successfully protected Maine people. It amounts to a Republican invitation for a resurgence of the virus, which not only would sicken more people but would damage our economy for years to come,” Mills said in a statement about the Republican proposal.
The economic pain that COVID-19 has caused is significant. Maine has lost more than 70,000 jobs, businesses have closed and others are struggling to stay afloat. Those consequences are real, the impacts are real and the damage is real.
But the hardships ultimately haven’t been caused by the decisions that the governor has made or has not made. They have been caused by a virus that is rampaging through our country, claiming the lives of about 150,000 Americans. Another 4 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease.
In California, Texas and Florida — states that account for about a third of the U.S. population — COVID-19 is taking a growing and devastating toll.
On Sunday, Florida, which has rushed to try to get back to normal, passed New York as the state with the second-largest COVID-19 impact. That day, the state’s department of health reported more than 9,000 new infections and 78 deaths. Since March 1, more than 423,000 thousand people in the state have tested positive and nearly 6,000 have died.
Maine, of course, has a much smaller population than Florida, but the contrast in approach to the pandemic and its toll on life between the two states is clear. Maine has lost 121 lives to COVID-19, with just under 4,000 cases, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
If Republicans had their way, they would remove the Mills administration’s quarantine and testing requirements for more states, allow larger gatherings of people and essentially roll the dice on what happens next.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the number of cases and the positivity rate on new tests are moving in the wrong direction. At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, warned that the state has to take precautions, particularly with more people moving about.
“We should all remember where we were when we started this reopening program in May,” Baker said, referring to a time when Massachusetts was a hotspot for the coronavirus.
His state also requires testing and quarantining for travelers and is threatening anyone who breaks those rules with a $500-a-day fine.
Baker knows the devastation that COVID-19 brought to his state, and he’s in no hurry to see the horror show repeated.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Maine call Mills an “authoritarian” and liken her to the villains from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Many experts and business leaders agree the key to helping Maine’s economy to recover is to open schools in the fall. For that to happen — and it’s a big maybe — we need to keep COVID-19 under control. And we cannot keep the virus under control if we don’t continue down a cautious, science-based path.
We all want to move past COVID-19 and the ways in which it has changed our lives. But throwing open the gates and hoping for the best isn’t a plan. It’s giving up.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.