On a regular basis, constituents contact me to let me know that they are encountering people in public places – stores, the post office, etc. – who are not wearing a mask. To all those who have called or written, thank you. Thank you for looking out for your health, your family’s health, the health of perfect strangers, and the broader public health of our community.
There is a tendency to dismiss or ridicule people who report unsafe situations and label them “tattletales.” In my view, that’s the wrong approach. We have to take a moment to think a little harder about what’s really at stake if we slip up.
As your state representative, I can’t personally go storefront to storefront enforcing the state’s mask order. But what I can do is step forward as a scientist and as one of our community leaders and say as clearly as I can that right now we need to pull together and make face coverings a basic part of our day-to-day life.
Although there were questions about wearing masks early in the pandemic, science and data have since shown that masks protect people. Recently, even President Trump stated that masks work and should be worn when social distancing is not possible.
The CDC has promulgated, and many experts agree, that our three best tools to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are to social distance, wear a mask in public, and maintain high personal hygiene, especially washing our hands. Until we have either a vaccine or wide access to effective treatment, there isn’t much more we can do to combat the virus. The good news is, we know these three tools work because we’ve seen the evidence, both in other countries and right here in Maine, where we have the fourth-lowest infection rate in the country.
COVID-19 will not disappear. It will linger and embed itself in our society the same way the common cold, flu, and chickenpox have. But this time the effects are deadlier, and recoveries often leave lasting damage. We must collectively acknowledge that we will have to keep up our focus and remain committed to some admittedly inconvenient practices until vaccines and therapies are developed and widely distributed. That means social distancing, wearing masks, and washing our hands regularly.
It is vital that we don’t have an outbreak for all the obvious reasons, but please especially consider these two final points that are specific to our area. Lincoln County has one of the oldest populations in the entire country. We know seniors suffer from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than the general population, and I shudder to think at the damage an outbreak could do here if it were to get out of control.
Second, our area is dependent upon tourism, particularly in the summer, for much of our commerce. If we have another major outbreak, tourists will stop visiting Lincoln County, and few people – residents and tourists alike – will feel safe enough to go out and spend money in their normal patterns. The less safe people feel, the worse off our economy is.
We can have legitimate debates over individual freedoms and constitutionality. But, setting aside both those debates and the mask order itself, I’m asking you to make a choice to look out for each other. By wearing a mask, we can choose to be a good neighbor, support our local businesses, and more quickly bring back some semblance of our normal lives.
(Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation, and the unorganized territory of Louds Island. He sits on the Marine Resources Committee.)