Never before has humankind been so united in crisis. Everything is changed and we must stand together (6 feet apart) to share our strength and hope.

I love my work as a full-spectrum family medicine physician here in Maine. I work in an outpatient ambulatory clinic, a hospital and two independent family planning clinics. I teach students and residents, and I work with an incredibly dedicated group of colleagues and staff. We take care of Mainers of all ages, young and old, pregnant patients, kids with earaches and people worried about COVID-19. I know my patients and my community, and I know the risk this virus poses to all of us.

Let me say this at the outset: This coronavirus is incredibly contagious. I know there are people who believe that social distancing and shelter in place orders are overkill. But I cannot say this strongly enough: Now, more than ever, we have to slow the spread of this virus. But we do not need to become overly anxious. Following three simple rules will protect you: Wash your hands every time you touch something that someone else may have recently touched, do not touch your face and practice social distancing.

It is easy for the news of this pandemic and its economic impact to overshadow all other political issues. Yet an engaged electorate is vital to rebuilding our future as a strong, stable country. We cannot allow the disruption of our typical lives to prevent our voices from being heard.

This Wednesday, I am going to participate in a telephone community forum with the 16 Counties Coalition. I want to hear the stories of my neighbors and lift up our voices to our elected officials. Let’s talk about how your businesses and bank accounts have been affected. What medical or safety concerns do you have? Did you have trouble paying for both food and your medications before COVID-19? How are you managing now? Let’s share our stories. If you want to participate, you can RSVP on the 16 Counties website. On Wednesday at 6:25 p.m., we will call you and let you join the event by phone. You can ask a question, or just listen in.

Because of the decisive and clear actions of Gov. Mills and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine is in a better situation than many other places in the world. Clinics and doctors’ offices around the state have ramped up new technology to address patient needs over telephone and video conferencing, thus decreasing patients’ and staff’s risk of infection and transmission. In my hospital, elective surgeries are being postponed to maintain maximal bed availability for patients who really need hospital-based care. As we have studied the transmission of COVID-19, we have learned that the highest risk of infection is from touching something with the virus, then touching our face. So we are preserving precious personal protective equipment for highest-risk situations and staying safe with gloves, face masks and excellent hand-washing practices. I am grateful to Maine-based companies like FlowFold, L.L. Bean and New Balance for using their manufacturing workforce to develop face masks.

Amid all this preparation, there are some things I worry about. The first is the economic life of my patients. I’m worried about Mainers’ ability to pay for food, medication, clothing and rent. I am also worried about the mental health of our community. We are all struggling with anxiety, fear, uncertainty and grief. Parents and children are coping with new home-based routines, students with special needs are without services and all of us miss our friends and family. These are times to create and maintain healthy coping routines: daily exercise, conscious moments without screen time (especially for kids) and limits on news and social media. Religious services, 12-step meetings and support groups have moved online. Prayer and meditation are always available to us.

We are all in this together. And that’s why I’m joining my fellow Mainers in the telephone town hall Wednesday night. A town-hall style meeting can help keep our elected officials in touch with the real-life experiences of the people they represent. We are stronger as a community coming together and sharing our stories, and we have a powerful story to tell our national leaders.

I hope to talk to you Wednesday night.


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