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Whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump is ultimately declared the winner of Tuesday’s election, there is one constant — coronavirus will be with us for months to come. This is a sobering reminder that, no matter your political leanings or preferences, we must follow public health guidelines to minimize the spread of the virus.
In Maine, 163 new coronavirus cases were reported on Thursday.
The seven-day average for new coronavirus cases is 118.7, up from 107.4 a day ago and more than triple the seven-day average of 31 a month ago. It’s the highest seven-day average Maine has seen since the pandemic began in March, far surpassing the highs seen during the late spring.
Cases are also rising nationally, with more than 100,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, the highest daily total since the pandemic began. More than 1,110 American deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday.
If there is any bright spot in the Maine data, it is that hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 are not rising as rapidly as new cases and have not reached the levels seen this spring. They are, however, increasing, which is troubling.
Still, it is clear that Americans and Mainers must do a better job of taking the simple precautions needed to slow the spread of the virus. Steps as simple as staying at least six feet away from others, not attending large gatherings (especially indoors), wearing a face mask and frequently washing your hands have been shown to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Yet, too few people are taking these safety measures.
On Thursday, Gov. Janet Mill extended the state’s face mask mandate to all public places, indoor and outdoor, beginning on Friday.
Late last week, the governor delayed the planned reopening of bars and tasting rooms in the state and lowered the indoor gathering limit from 100 to 50 because of the rise in COVID cases.
“Protect your family. Protect a health care worker. Protect the elderly,” Mills said in a press release on Thursday. “Wear your face covering. Save lives. It is that simple.”
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have face mask mandates. Some, like Maine’s, require face coverings at public places both indoors and out; some state only requires masks at indoor public spaces.
Predictably, the Maine Republican Party quickly condemned Mills’ actions, baselessly claiming they were “leading our state toward economic ruin.”
The party offered no alternative way to slow or stop the upward trajectory of COVID cases in Maine.
If cases continue to rise, governors will likely impose some form of shutdowns to try to get the virus under control. Countries in Europe are again imposing lockdowns as virus cases and coronavirus-related deaths are rapidly rising there.
In recent months, Maine had been held up as a model for controlling coronavirus as the state had one of the lowest infection rates in the country. That changed in recent weeks with outbreaks at several churches around the state, continued outbreaks at nursing homes and 85 cases among inmates and staff at the Maine Correctional Center having confirmed cases of the illness. Small gatherings, especially in people’s homes, are also a source of transmission as people have let their guards down after months of limitations.
Rising case numbers are largely attributed to people not following state guidelines and mandates for face coverings, social distancing and crowd limits.
To keep Maine businesses as open as possible and to ensure that our hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID patients, we all must take precautionary steps to reduce the spread of the virus. If everyone were taking these precautions, Mills would not need to issue new orders restricting businesses and citizens and case numbers would likely not be increasing.