A look back at COVID and how Midcoast neighbors banded together
With the end of the federal public health emergencies related to the COVID-19 pandemic May 11, the Penobscot Bay Pilot is looking back at the pandemic. Not just the gloom and havoc the virus wreaked, but also how neighbors throughout Midcoast communities banded together to strengthen each other.
As of May 9, 2023, Knox County officially recorded 8,275 of COVID 19 cases since March 2020; Waldo County recorded 8,200 and Lincoln County recorded 7,059.
It all began when the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) said Feb. 10, 2020 that the first instance of an individual in the state being tested for 2019 novel coronavirus had occurred.
By then, individuals from 37 other states and U.S. territories had been tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus, though only 12 people across six states had tested positive.
Three days later, on Feb. 13, the Maine CDC received word from their federal counterparts that the individual that was tested in Maine returned a negative test result.
Two weeks later, the Pilot was publishing stories how different agencies — from local school districts and area hospitals to state public health officials and the governor’s office — were prepping contingency plans should the virus officially make its way to Maine.
On March 12, a woman in her 50s from Androscoggin was Maine’s first presumptive case of COVID-19. Just one day earlier, the World Health Organization announced the COVID-19 outbreak could be characterized as a pandemic, as the rates of infection continued to rise in many locations around the world and across the United States.
By then, 1,645 people from 47 states had been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
The next day, March 13, then-President Trump declared a national emergency. Two days later, on a Sunday, Governor Janet Mills recommended suspending classroom instruction, as well as postponing non-urgent medical procedures and appointments. For its part, MaineHealth, including the PenBay and Waldo hospitals, suspended elective surgeries and non-urgent office visits as of March 16.
At that point, I was beginning a daily habit of checking the COVID cases. The process first began by tuning in to media briefings presented by Dr. Nirav Shah around noon, before the updates slowly became earlier and earlier until Maine CDC finally settled on, and stuck with, 8:15 a.m. for the data dump.
At times, I would have to check frequently throughout the day to see if Maine CDC had worked out a handful of technical hiccups. At that point, with data dumps being uploaded in the mornings, I would tune into the media briefings at 2 p.m. awaiting any news — such as outbreaks at care facilities or workplaces — pertinent to the Midcoast.
None of us had any idea what was ahead, and I surely did not know that I’d become the COVID beat reporter for the Pilot (with daily updates cross-published by our sister publications in Boothbay and Wiscasset).
For roughly two years, I was publishing updates daily, and periodically chatting with the editors at Maine-OK on how to best present the data provided by Maine CDC — from positive test results by county and by ZIP code to hospitalizations and deaths,
I looked at it all and sought to publish as much data, information and resources as possible. For a while, I believe we even published data about the counties outside our coverage areas before scaling down all data, except for hospitalizations and deaths, to just focus on Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties. Maine CDC, eventually, scaled its case updates to five times per week before later dropping them down to once per week around mid-February of this year.
Case in point of how we sought to get answers that readers were asking, or likely to ask: the Maine CDC announced a presumptive positive Knox County case March 16, 2020, and confirmed one day later the individual, a 35-year-old male, had tested positive.
By March 18, though, the case was no longer showing in the Maine CDC dashboard. We quickly asked the Maine CDC what happened and reported March 19 the individual had been scrubbed from the Maine CDC dashboard because the individual was primarily a resident of another state, and had therefore been transferred to that state’s dashboard, per federal guidance.
“Further epidemiological review of the case listed Tuesday as being a Knox County resident determined that the individual's primary residence was in another state. Per U.S. CDC directives, cases are listed by the state of primary residence,” Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long told the Pilot at the time. “The individual is still being cared for in Maine, but is not listed in the Maine CDC table online to ensure accurate national tabulation of COVID-19 cases.”
Knox County found itself back on the Maine CDC case dashboard March 23, followed by Waldo County a day later. Lincoln County had recorded five cases by then. As of March 23, 2020, Cumberland was up to 66 cases, with two recoveries while York was up to 12 cases.
Information and important notices from community and state officials, business owners and educators flowed into the Pilot’s inboxes at a rapid pace. The first nine days of COVID affecting the state were packed, from morning to night, with posting notices, information and resources submitted to us, and tracking down information that hadn’t been submitted. I recall a fairly significant amount of interest in what the universities were doing in response to the pandemic, and formed a habit to repeatedly check university websites, sometimes multiple times a day, for the latest update to publish to the Pilot.
We established a resource page, a collection center for all the alerts and vital information our readers needed to know — what was open, what was closed, how school officials were adjusting, and what community leaders were saying.
Innovative solutions, before long, were brought to our attention, easing life for everyone as we moved through the unfamiliar sequestering days. Amid a cycle of gloomful news, some rays of sun started to break through the dark clouds and we began publishing stories about neighbors helping neighbors. (See the end of this story for some of our favorite stories of how the communities joined together to help each other.)
Though some solutions and resources easily found its way to us — be it by email or word of mouth — we also tracked down information through social media. Pouring through social media accounts, looking for a resource or a kind act worth spotlighting became a daily habit.
Waldoboro farmer Allison Lakin called the newsroom March 15 with an idea. Out in the barn with the dairy cows, Lakin was mulling over how to reach customers tucked away in their homes and suggested building an online database and a print product listing the region’s producers and their products. An online Maine farm products and pick-up directory was created days later by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, in partnership with Lakin.
More than two dozen teens from the Five Towns area formed a task force to provide free childcare, I learned during one of my many searches of social media. Schools began delivering meals to students at home, and a Facebook group connected Maine fishermen to local buyers, my colleagues reported. And that’s just from the first few days of life adjustments!
Notices and solutions weren’t the only emails pouring into our inboxes, though. A flurry of photos from readers quickly filled our inboxes, so PenBayPilot.com began publishing those photos in galleries to our site to chronicle the days (which caused even more photos to pour in at a seemingly quicker pace!).
Midcoast Maine establishes new normal with a sense of grace; Maine weathers a pandemic; Maine springs through a pandemic; Summering on through uncharted times; the Leaves of Change; Finding our Footing; and Tipping Toward Winter carried us from 2020 into 2021.
We thought about discontinuing the galleries in Summer 2021, when we thought the pandemic was winding down. But it did not, and photographers continued sending us their photos. Alas, it yielded: A hopeful new year; A Wellspring of Hope and By now, we know the routine.
In 2022, we decided, what the heck. We love your photos, and your appreciation of the world around us. Let’s continue the tradition on recording life in the Midcoast, courtesy of area photographers.
So, we added more photos of 2022 to Gallery 10 before chronicling 2022 and 2023 through Grounding in our natural environment during troubling times and Moving through the seasons with area photographers.
Those photos are still rolling in, and being published, with the 13th edition being published May 11, 2023, the same day the federal government declared an end to public health emergency: Gallery XIII: A tradition continues.
And, as promised, here’s some of our favorites of how neighbors helped neighbors:
Corie’s Rides helps community with personal taxi service
South Thomaston woman opens shop to help fellow crafters hard hit by pandemic
Maine Cater serves as a lifeline to local restaurants and servers
Belfast Reentry Center sews more than 3,500 masks for Waldo County communities, schools
New delivery service ‘Belfast Delivers’ brings food, products to Waldo County
‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ initiative in Camden brings cheer to congregate settings
Surprise drive-by 70th birthday celebration a milestone event for Camden man, despite pandemic
Buying locally raised meat becomes favored choice during pandemic
Locals, long-time Maine visitors come together to support Midcoast’s small businesses
Midcoast paramedics, EMTs brainstorm, sew their own PPE, using shower curtains and socks
Rockland restaurateur enters third week of providing free meals
Lyman-Morse lends a hand to local healthcare workers by building intubation aerosol boxes
Cornerspring Montessori School provides care for children of medical staff, first responders during COVID-19
Camden inns pull together, bake goods for medical staff at Pen Bay Medical Center
Mt. Battie Star to shine this spring, lifting Midcoast spirits during a pandemic
Volunteers, City of Belfast collaborate to provide phone check-ins, essential shopping to seniors during COVID-19
Putting Service Above Self: Five Midcoast Rotary clubs initiate collaborative service effort for communities
Indie bookshops find workarounds to get books into hands of socially isolated customers
Camden distillery helps produce hand sanitizer for hospital; breweries, distillers statewide join effort
Rep. Zeigler establishes senior check-in program amid pandemic
Searsport’s KINDNESS program provides meals during times of need
Chef offering virtual cooking sessions to help Midcoast figure out what to cook
Rep. Doudera organizes check-in network for seniors during COVID-19 pandemic
Rockland woman turns to baking after being temporarily laid off amid COVID-19
Midcoast turns to virtual fitness sessions with familiar teachers
Acts of generosity: Danica Candles gives away ‘decompression candles’
Waldoboro Miller School teachers introduce familiarity through virtual reading sessions
Four Corner Variety owners providing free lunches to youth, elderly during pandemic
Spontaneous generosity: Camden-Rockport schools deliver boxes of nitrile gloves Pen Bay Medical Center
Kindness and generosity come in a surprise phone call to one stressed Camden restaurateur
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