Are you as sick and tired as I am of COVID-19 news, and nothing but, 24-7?

I ask this even as I embark on yet another coronavirus commentary, this one looking forward to what we may have to look forward to.

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

While state and federal health officials caution against optimism, the Trump administration seems hell-bent on getting the country open in time to demonstrate that it’s not Trump’s fault the economy is collapsing and his administration totally failed to prepare for the pandemic. He seems willing to risk a spike in deaths to accomplish this.

My own sense is that the majority of Americans will be content to remain sequestered in their homes into early May, but things will start to loosen up after that as people lose their fear of COVID-19. The numbers in Maine aren’t that bad and nationally not as bad as worst case scenarios predicted, so I wouldn’t be surprised if shutdown orders were lifted in June.

A gradual return to normal is already noticeable in family groups out strolling on sunny spring days. Soon I expect to see spontaneous games of Frisbee, softball, whiffle ball and soccer break out. Then we will timidly, self-consciously remove our masks. But no handshaking, keep a respectful distance and don’t handle the avocados.

I guess school is done for the year, however, remote learning having replaced classroom instruction. It’s such a shame to have deprived young people of the rites of spring – proms, parties, state championships, award ceremonies, graduations. Maybe there will be some belated celebrations, but I somehow doubt it. School officials are among the most timid souls on earth.


As we come out of hiding, the argument will be made that had we not all sheltered-in-place the pandemic would have been much worse. But there is no way to know that for sure.

People will probably look to Sweden, which had a soft lockdown, to see if a less draconian regimen might have been in order. Swedish colleges and high schools were closed and large gatherings were banned, but restaurants and businesses stayed open, as did elementary and preschools. Critics, however, will point out that four times as many Swedes died as Danes, who had a hard shutdown.

Here in the U.S., South Dakota took the soft approach, not mandating a lockdown, and so far it hasn’t seemed to pay too high a price with deaths still in the single digits as of this writing. On the other hand, a pork plant in Sioux Falls had to close after hundreds of its employees came down with the virus. Cross Smithfield ham off the shopping list.

Most of the recent cases in Maine have been old people in nursing homes, the very people we were trying so hard to protect by staying home. We probably need to rethink a system in which the most vulnerable are infected by their caregivers and in which people are forced to die without their loved ones present.

As the curve flattens, public health officials, who went overnight from being anonymous bureaucrats to prime time pandemic stars, will step back into obscurity, warning us as they go that if we don’t behave it will happen again in the fall. We won’t really be able to breathe easy until a vaccine is developed, probably sometime next year.

And Donald Trump, who didn’t have the guts to call for a national shutdown, will still insist that he is in charge, but all except the most clueless Americans will understand that has never been the case.

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