For reasons having to do with both inherent skepticism and defiant denial, I have been slow to embrace social distancing as anything more than mass hysteria. Over the past two weeks, however, I have evolved from “This is way overblown” to “This could kill me.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

I have had this gradual change of heart as people I love tell me that, as a 71-year-old grandfather who spent five months in the hospital last year, I am the reason they are taking social distancing seriously. One of my grandchildren, in fact, hid in the basement when I stopped by for a visit out of fear that she might infect me.

The hard numbers still suggest that COVID-19 is no worse than the Asian flu that killed 116,000 Americans in 1957-58 or the Hong Kong flu that killed 100,000 Americans in 1968-69. For that matter the seasonal flu has a death toll of some 50,000 this flu season. But with public health officials predicting 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths, the All We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself factor has crept into my life such that I pretty much stay home now except for occasional trips to the grocery store and post office.

As ordered, I keep hand sanitizer and a face mask in the car, wash my chapped hands dozens of times a day and maintain 6-foot buffers between myself and all but a few family members. Still, every dry cough may signal the beginning of the end.

Nevertheless, I have to shake my head in disbelief at measures like closing the Appalachian Trail and Maine beaches or taking down the soccer nets so kids won’t be tempted to play on the school field behind our house. When you can’t walk in the woods or on the beach authorities may have gone a little too far.

There is an element of irrational fear about lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing. When Trump toyed with the idea of making residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut prisoners of their own states, I was surprised he didn’t just propose building a wall around the tri-state area, a wall he would get China to pay for.

When it comes to pandemic travel restrictions, I’m afraid I have finally found something that The Forecaster’s conservative columnist, John Balentine, (Here’s Something, March 31) and I actually agree on: telling out-of-staters they can’t come to Maine is un-American and unconstitutional.

Gov. Janet Mills has taken in the welcome mat, asking summerfolks and snowbirds alike to stay away during the pandemic. The ripple effects of this unwelcome message are being felt all over the state.

The ugly side of Maine life, for example, is being revealed in places like Swan’s Island, North Haven and Vinalhaven, where frightened islanders want seasonal residents to stay home or to self-quarantine for two weeks if they do seek refuge on the islands.

Out on quarry-pocked Vinalhaven, armed vigilantes actually cut down a tree to block the driveway of a home where workmen from New Jersey are living. This effort to impose a quarantine by force gave Maine the kind of national black eye it hasn’t suffered since Paul LePage left for Florida.

Hate to spoil the party, boys, but you might want to sink the ferry while you’re at it. Anything coming over from the mainland – mail, groceries, medical supplies, relatives – has the potential to carry the virus. You might, therefore, want to start treating strangers with care and kindness rather than fear and loathing.

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