While social distancing to fight the spread of coronavirus, I had a conversation with a woman in my neighborhood about – guess what? – social distancing and coronavirus.

I offered that these rules are hard to live with, but they would be worth it if they slowed the spread of the disease. (This is the kind of high quality opinion you get from me even when I’m not at work.)

She mumbled something like, “That’s the theory, anyway.”

I bit.

“Do you have another theory?”

She did.

It involves Bill Gates, who, she said, knew back in October that a coronavirus pandemic would start in China and circle the globe. People are saying, she said, that Gates plans to profit by selling a vaccine that everyone will be forced to get, whether they want it or not. The whole thing involves Agenda 21, the United Nations sustainable land-use planning guidelines that were painted as a “one world government” power grab in some circles about a decade ago, and possibly the rollout of 5G wireless.

My poker face must have slipped, because she said, “You can look it up. It’s called ‘plandemic’ because it was all planned – like 9/11.”

Oh. I see.

We have entered the phase of the crisis where the mythologies start to emerge. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the villain we need behind it. If we don’t have answers, we will provide them ourselves. Who killed JFK? Why did the twin towers collapse? How did this disease spread so quickly?

The “plandemic” theory is not limited to this one person. It was probably behind a piece of graffiti I saw later that said something about a COVID patent from 2006. Twitter is awash with people who claim that Gates’ desire to sell vaccines is behind the spread, and 5G towers have been attacked in Great Britain.

These are not the only conspiracy theories circling Maine.

As reported in the Maine Beacon, the news service of the Maine People’s Alliance, state Rep. Larry Lockman, a candidate for the Maine Senate, issued a screed to the Maine First email list last week, claiming that the virus outbreak is a left-wing power grab.

In his email, the right-wing provocateur called Gov. Mills’ stay-at-home order “house arrest,” “soft despotism” and “martial law lite,” declaring that “progressives see the pandemic as an opportunity to fundamentally transform Maine and America into a police state where citizens shut up and do what they’re told by the ‘experts.’ ”

Lockman advised his followers to “be students of politics and war” and resist “the clenched fist of the Nanny State upending our lives and our livelihoods.”

This is probably the most extreme rhetoric that has ever come in response to being told to stay home and wash your hands more.

Lockman is not the only one who thinks Mills is up to something.

During her comments at a press briefing last week, Facebook commenters were stoking the flames of another conspiracy theory. Rather than claiming – like Lockman – that the governor is overplaying the crisis, they believe she is hiding cases, underreporting the number of sick people in the Maine by not accounting for people from away who got sick here but don’t get counted in our total.

Like many of these conspiracy theories, it has a kernel of truth. (For instance, Bill Gates did predict that there would be a global pandemic because it was, well, totally predictable. The rest of the story is nuts.)

COVID-19 patients are counted in their home states, regardless of where they happened to be when they got sick to avoid counting them twice. At Thursday’s briefing, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that there were 17 people diagnosed and treated in Maine who are added to the tallies in other states. That includes people from New Hampshire whose closest hospital maybe across the state line in Maine. At the same time, there are 13 Mainers who got sick and diagnosed in another state who are counted on Maine’s list.

So as of Thursday, the net “undercount” of cases in Maine is four.

That difference is hardly enough to affect policy, and it does not register on the coverup meter.

Some people might feel better believing that there are dark forces at work that affect our lives. At least that would mean that somebody was in charge.

But the simple answer is usually the best. This disease spread so fast because the federal government was slow to respond to it. That has created an economic catastrophe that we won’t emerge from anytime soon.

And Bill Gates doesn’t need to make us sick to take our money, because he’s already rich.

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