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Since early March, Mainers have been deluged with wall-to-wall coverage of the coronavirus. Regardless of which medium you use to consume news, there’s no escaping it.
The popular narrative from talking heads and political commentators seems to be that we did not shut down hard or fast enough. However, this amounts to little more than fear mongering when measured up against actual scientific data about who stands a serious health risk from contracting the virus.
What you do not hear about as often are the adverse effects of government-ordered lockdowns, or the attempts of chief executives – including Gov. Janet Mills – to centrally plan our economies.
With a singular focus on COVID-19, it’s as if the rest of our societal woes have disappeared. People regularly downplay the significance of the decisions to close schools and places of worship, shutter businesses through “essential” and “nonessential” designations, delay elective medical procedures and reopen their economies based on rules and timelines, most of which ignore decades of disease mitigation practice.
In our republic, no one person was ever meant to wield as much power as governors do today. Many states, including Maine, continue under a declared state of emergency with no end in sight. These emergency declarations enable chief executives to govern by edict, and when lawmakers do not have the fortitude to stand up to autocrats, the masses are forced to fall in line.
In a nutshell, this describes the state of affairs in Maine for the last five months. We’ve gone nearly half a year with one person controlling our state and unilaterally dictating who can exercise their inherent, inalienable rights. That’s not freedom, liberty or the country we claim to be.
Worst of all, these governors downplay the harmful impacts their orders have had on society and the economy. Let’s be clear that the coronavirus did not cause these ailments – orders from governors did – and there is plenty of evidence in Maine of the harm that has been caused.
To date, Maine Policy Institute has tracked more than 80 permanent business closures and the cancellation of more than 20 prominent fairs and festivals (on which many small towns rely for tourism income) as a result of the state’s economic lockdown. Unemployment skyrocketed and Maine’s labor force participation rate plummeted following Mills’ lockdown.
The worsening state of other public health concerns has gone virtually unnoticed. Maine lost 127 people to drug overdose deaths from January to March, a 23 percent increase from the last quarter of 2019. This exceeds national trends (13 percent increase) and it’s estimated Maine will lose 260 people to drug overdose deaths through the first half of 2020. That’s roughly double the deaths from COVID-19, yet the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides no daily update about it.
Research shows that delaying medical procedures will result in increased costs on our healthcare system because advanced diseases require more costly and advanced treatment to cure. The National Institute for Health estimates 91 percent of surgeries in the U.S. are considered “elective.” This decision also led to extensive hospital staff furloughs at a time when we were supposed to have all hands on deck to respond to the virus that has never come close to testing our hospital capacity.
There’s also new, alarming data about suicidal ideation and substance abuse among the American public. But for some reason, we remain singularly focused on COVID-19, which only presents a serious health threat to a sliver of the population.
The truth is that locking down Maine wasn’t our only choice – in fact, it was a mistake. A better approach than governing by edict is placing trust in people and offering recommendations based on the best scientific data available.
Jacob Posik is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute.