Because of COVID-19, Lee Auto Malls dealerships have been half closed for the month of April. Our showrooms have been closed, but we could sell cars by appointment. It has been a long, difficult month.

Hand sanitizer is kept handy at Lee Auto Mall in Westbrook. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Two weeks ago we had furloughed 200 people, almost 40 percent of our workforce. On Friday, Maine car dealers were allowed to open their showrooms once again. Since then we have brought almost 100 back. I hope this trend continues. In the meantime, we have taken as many steps as we can to support our employees, including paying their portion of their health insurance for the month of May.

It is painful to be closed or partially closed, but it is less painful than having this pandemic carry on making people sick or even killing them for another year or two. I am watching the demands to reopen the state all at once with skepticism and dread. Vacationland is going to be a grim place with no tourists.

While I don’t sell many cars to people from out of state, I do sell cars to people who work in hotels and restaurants, and to people who work at summer camps and bars, and to people who work at the farms that sell visitors their food, and to people who rely on tourist business. If none of these people can go back to work, then my business will suffer dramatically.

I am not a scientist, but I have learned to trust numbers. If our advertising cost per car goes way up, then we need to cut our advertising or figure out how to sell more cars.

If our warranties are costing us $150 per car, and every other dealer is at $100 per car, then we need to figure out what the problem is.

I think before we just open the entire state, as some in the Legislature are demanding, we should take a look at the numbers.

When you look at the numbers for the states nearest Maine, I think that we have done a great job in controlling this pandemic.

As of Tuesday, Maine’s COVID death rate was 5 per 100,000 residents, according to daily tracking and analysis by The New York Times.

Compare this to Vermont’s rate: 8 deaths per every 100,000 residents. That’s 66 percent higher than ours. The number of fatalities in Vermont (52) is close to the number in Maine (61), though our northern New England neighbor’s population is less than half of ours: 624,000 versus 1.3 million.

And compare it to the rate in New Hampshire: 6 deaths per 100,000 residents.

And finally, compare it to the rate in Michigan, which has quite a movement demanding that they open: 41 deaths for every 100,000 residents. That rate is over eight times higher than Maine’s.

Until we get enough rapid testing and eventually a vaccine, there is no magic bullet. Maine’s population is one of the oldest in the U.S., and Mainers over 80 account for just 13 percent of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 but roughly half of the deaths, according to recent state and federal public health data. Our reliance on tourism increases the pressure dramatically to open up quickly, but that does not mean we should forget about science, and the need to open up slowly.

It is not a coincidence that we have the fewest deaths. I am in favor of reopening the state, but why don’t we let the Maine Center for Disease Control director, Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D., and Gov. Mills do their jobs? They have kept us safer than almost any other state, and I am betting that they will open us up to business just as safely.

Put your politics away and look at the numbers.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.