Whether you’ve lived in the Midcoast for a year or from your first breath, you know there’s an inherent symbiosis between summer residents and the year-round economy. It may not be the end of May, but to turn our backs on returning seasonal homeowners in need is shortsighted.
While Knox County and much of the country struggles with a forced new reality and closes businesses — be they medical, legal, retail, or fitness — and schools remain shuttered through April and likely beyond, it’s hard to blame people flocking to seasonal homes now for a calm harbor in a sea of global chaos. Similarly, people returning from extended vacations in more infected parts of the country and world to Maine can’t be cast as pariahs.
What we can and must do to stem community spread in the Midcoast is remove the stigma of importing the virus and replace it with a forthright sense of honesty, urgency, and compassion.
For all of the lights that will flicker on ahead of season in the coming days and weeks, know the people inside need help. Doing so now protects us all. Help them help the greater community by giving seasonal neighbors lists of businesses delivering food and hardware. If you can, offer to do the pickups to limit exposure to retail workers bringing curbside orders to waiting vehicles. However you can, help them stay in place for two weeks and lessen the chance of inadvertently spreading COVID 19 in the Midcoast. Returning homeowners can help by recognizing our local hospitals already have a shortage of testing equipment and gear and understanding their need to isolate for 14 days isn’t a snub; it’s a potential lifeline.
At the same time, residents have reason to demand for more accurate local reporting of known cases.
The current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for reporting known cases is creating a false sense of security in Knox County, and elsewhere. The first case, tallied just a week ago, was quickly changed instead to reflect as NYC, the man’s residence listed on his driver’s license. This, according to excellent reporting by Steve Betts of The Courier Gazette, is the prescribed accounting of all COVID 19 cases to avoid double counting. The fact he had a home in Hope became irrelevant to national statistics.
The seasonal, undocumented residence is the greatest importance for local precautions. National number crunchers can have their place of origin, but local municipalities must know real time cases on the ground. Anything less invites community spread akin to what rages in Cumberland County.
The CDC numbers of positive tests conducted in Knox County on seasonal residents or visitors, is relevant. Knowing where these people plan to quarantine and how many people they should include in their umbrella of caution is also important. As Italian doctors have learned, the virus can be rampant in asymptomatic people, particularly younger people.
EMS or public safety officials may be asked to respond to the homes of infected people in the days and weeks to come. They deserve to know, in a forthright manner, if they are potentially entering an infected home. We need to encourage people to be clear about their travel schedules and to isolate accordingly. If we hope to protect residents from inadvertent spread we must encourage returning residents to seek help, to isolate, to not think of indicating the truth of their travels as a Scarlett Letter. Truthfullness and shared responsibility now may just be the badge of honor for the future health of the Midcoast we all love.
The State of Maine must quickly adopt its own reporting mechanism to accurately reflect known cases by town. Only then will residents fully appreciate the need for isolating upon re-entry to the Midcoast, along with general distancing already implemented by Governor Mills. We’re all asking to go to unusual lengths to protect the greater good. Helping summer residents a bit ahead of schedule shouldn’t be too much a burden to carry, nor do seasonal residents need to feel stigmatized by geography. The sooner we come to conclusion we are all in this together, the better.
Lorie Costigan lives in Appleton