13 May 2020: Working together to overcome COVID-19 in Maine

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, and here in Maine we find ourselves in a complicated middle ground. As parts of our economy remain closed and as Mainers continue to stay home as much as possible, many families are experiencing financial hardship and there is a strain on our state’s fiscal health. Still, if we reopen too quickly, we could find ourselves spreading the virus and seeing a major spike here in Maine.

There isn’t anyone I know who doesn’t want to be able to return to some form of a normal life as soon as possible. The key is to do so safely and with the health of all in mind.

Now is a crucial time to engage across communities and sectors and be a part of the State’s response to COVID-19. The Governor has laid out her four-stage plan to reopen the economy, and she has been open to adjusting the plan as new solutions come to light. 

Personally, I am working with our local business owners and community leaders to develop steps we can suggest that work for our district. I welcome your ideas and will do my best to help find solutions that balance the economy and public health.

Because of your concerns related to a requirement that contemplates continuing the 14-day restriction on out-of-state visitors from public interactions as I outlined in my April 30 report, I wanted to respond with an update on the state’s pursuit of a more targeted, refined approach.

With COVID deaths currently at 80,000 nationally and climbing by roughly 2000 each day, we must be gravely concerned about the consequences of suddenly having travelers from all over the world again coming to MDI.

As I described in my April 21 op-ed in the Bangor Daily News, greatly expanded testing is the only way we can assure safety to Maine residents, employees, and visitors to our communities.  Without such assurance, our local tourism businesses cannot survive.

In response, I am glad to see that Maine businesses like Idexx and Jackson Labs are quickly ramping up testing capacity for the benefit of the state. This takes us substantially in the right direction in relation to a more targeted approach beyond the blunt tool of a baseline 14-day quarantine for all visitors.

I am also heartened that discussions are developing between our local health providers and business leaders to explore with the state alternate protocols for visitors which would better assure the safety and health of residents, employees and visitors alike allowing some prospect for summer business while containing the risk that our area suddenly becomes the next New England COVID hotspot which all acknowledge would be the worst possible outcome in terms of both health and business.

A rigorous protocol of screening and testing visitors and employees will require substantial new logistical effort from all parties.  But the essential importance of our businesses and health makes such an effort prudent and necessary.

If we can gain such a mutual commitment from businesses, residents, and healthcare providers, I believe we might be able, even within the overall prospect of a curtailed season, to make things at least a little better and safer for everyone.

From conversations that I have had in Augusta, I am confident that the Governor understands and shares my concerns. Our common purpose is to keep people safe by avoiding the catastrophe of a viral outbreak that would cause Mainers to die and prolong the economic harm to our communities. Denying that risk is both shortsighted and dangerous.

To achieve that common goal, we need solutions based in science which allow us to go about our lives and pursue our livelihoods safely and without unnecessary impediment. I know the Governor understands and agrees with that as well and supports discussions toward that end.

In the meantime, the secondary consequences of this pandemic are already stressing the well-being of many individuals and families to the point of real damage..  

To me, this is all the more reason to avoid setbacks now and risk prolonging the collective sacrifices that families are currently making.  But these compounding hardships also confirm the necessity of providing a broad safety net for all our citizens at this time.  

No one should be losing their homes, suffering from untreated illness, or going without food as a result of what is now both a public health crisis and a growing economic crisis.  We are fortunate here to have excellent volunteer networks of community care. But the state and federal governments simply must step up to the task on the road ahead as well.

Thank you for all you are doing to keep yourself and your neighbors healthy and to support our Maine economy through this time. If there is anything I can do to help you, please reach out. 

WEIGHING IN ON THE STATE’S REOPENING PLAN

Gov. Mills has stressed that as the public health situation changes and as we develop better solutions for the economy, the timeline could be shortened or extended. As part of that, the Department of Economic and Community Development, which is leading the plan to restart Maine’s economy, has opened an online portal for Mainers to submit their ideas for how to improve our reopening plan. Businesses that believe they should be allowed to reopen earlier than specified in the Governor’s plan may complete this request form

ECONOMIC RECOVERY COMMITTEE

The Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee, on which I serve, will hold its initial meeting this Friday at 8:00am. You may follow that meeting at this link.

SNAP BENEFITS INCREASED

The USDA has approved Maine’s Pandemic EBT program to support more families with SNAP benefits, especially those affected by the loss of free or reduced-price school meals during the shutdown. Families who already receive benefits should be seeing more cash applied to their card, and other families who now qualify for this program (up to 175% of the federal poverty line) will be able to request this benefit by calling 1-855-797-4357. More information is available here

FREQUENTLY USED RESOURCES

As always, here is a set of resources to help with the most common COVID-19 problems Mainers are facing:

LOCAL INFORMATION 

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