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On Tuesday, Maine passed a grim milestone: 1,000 deaths attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of these deaths leaves a hole in a family, a community, a workplace.
Perhaps we are tired of a year and a half of relative isolation, disconnection and heightened alert that has come with the COVID pandemic. Perhaps we don’t feel a connection to these Mainers who are no longer with us. Perhaps we can’t grasp what 1,000 missing Mainers means. For context, dozens of Maine towns, from Abbot to Liberty and Freedom to Woodville, have fewer than 1,000 residents.
For whatever reason, the shock and outrage that typically follows an event that kills so many people is largely missing here.
People are sad, sure. But, for too many Mainers this tragic milestone is not a call to action, not a clarion that spurs them to do something to slow the course of COVID and its deadly delta variant.
Put simply, many of these deaths in the past six month were likely preventable with vaccination, which makes Maine’s milestone even sadder.
“Nearly 19 months after this pandemic began, today marks a grim and unwelcome milestone,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement on Tuesday. “Those we lost to COVID-19 are people we loved and cherished — parents, grandparents, siblings, children, loved ones and friends, all valued members of our Maine community. We mourn their passing and grieve for the moments they are no longer able to share with us.”
“Yet,” the governor added, “we have it in our power to end this needless suffering and heartbreak; a way to protect our health and that of the people we love; a way to give our heroic doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals a much-needed break; a way to protect our children — please get vaccinated today.”
It’s a message that’s been shared countless times, in many different ways — now including a remake of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by folks at Northern Light Health (watch for cameos by Mills and Sen. Susan Collins).
The state’s vaccination rate has been ticking up, but more than a quarter of eligible Mainers have yet to get an inoculation. Hospitalizations, ICU and ventilator usage for COVID patients have been at record numbers. Nearly all of these patients are unvaccinated.
Also this week, deaths from COVID in the U.S. — more than 675,000 — surpassed the total number of deaths from the 1918 flu in this country. Considering the medical, sanitary and technological advances made in the past 100 years, this is a sickening tally, even as the 1918 flu killed a greater percentage of the population. There was no vaccine for the 1918 flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people around the world. Today, there is a vaccine for COVID-19 and it is readily available in the U.S., yet 1,900 Americans are dying each day from a disease that is largely survivable.
Sadly, the next day, next week, next month will bring more COVID deaths, which will bring more sorrow. We realize we might not be a persuasive messenger for those who are resistant to COVID inoculations, but we’ll say it again: The best way to slow this deadly tally is to get vaccinated.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misspelled the name of the town of Abbot.