The end of the week has brought sobering news in Maine’s effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, with 38 new cases reported Wednesday and another 50 on Thursday, along with four deaths over those two days.

At a time when most of the talk is about when we can return to doing things the way we used to do them, the increase in cases is a reminder that the novel coronavirus is still circulating in Maine, and that it is critical that we all take the necessary precautions.

The high number of cases can be attributed in part to an increase in testing. The number of people tested over the last week was about double the average tested over the last month.

But tests don’t create cases – they merely locate them. Test or no test, those cases are in our community.

The investigations of each case are still underway, but Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that the new cases appear to stem both from close contact with an infected person and from community transmission in those counties that have previously reported it.

“It’s out there,” he said.

Retail stores in the 12 counties where community transmission has not been found were allowed to open this week as long as they follow certain guidelines. Dine-in service at restaurants can start Monday in those counties, also with certain restrictions.

The businesses that have been closed in the other four counties – Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot and York – are scheduled to reopen no earlier than June 1.

But county borders in this case mean about as much as state borders – and just see how people are willing to travel when a haircut is at stake. When shops and restaurants are open just a short drive away, some people are going to visit them. As summer comes on – finally – people are going to want to move around. It’s all going to bring them in touch with others, and if proper precautions are not taken, it will create conditions for transmission.

The virus doesn’t care that you really want a burger or that you’ve been cooped up for weeks. It doesn’t stop at the county line.

That’s why it’s so important for people to continue to follow best practices. Whether a state order is in place or not, stay home as much as possible. Limit your trips to the store. Keep your distance. Wash your hands frequently – and really wash them.

And though it has somehow become a point of partisan contention, masks may be the best tool we have for restarting a number of activities safely. When you wear one, you protect others; when we all wear them, we are all protected. So please, if you’re able to, do your part and wear a mask.

The virus isn’t going to go away just because we want it to. In fact, acting as though it will is the best way to ensure that it will stick around.


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