My family lives in Maine, where my spouse and I own a small house on a small rural plot where we have lived for part of the last decade. Our jobs require us to be elsewhere, and we’re not quite able to afford retirement just yet. So, we’re From Away and don’t pretend to be otherwise.

We readily help our neighbors in need, donate blood, support the local schools and libraries and rely on locally owned businesses to meet our needs. And I wish we could be doing all of that right now. But the COVID pandemic is a threat we take seriously and with good reason. So for now, we remain “in exile” in the state of Iowa, where I am a teacher, and my wife has been able to work from home.

We read the Forecaster and Portland Press Herald as online subscribers, following the arguments over the 14-day quarantine order and other measures put in place by Gov. Mills. The economic impact of this crisis strikes industries and business, large and local, in both similar and different ways depending upon where you live and what generates most local revenue.

Few think of Iowa as a Vacation Destination:

• We don’t have many natural lakes.

• Industrial agriculture renders our rivers dangerously polluted with runoff and animal waste.

• We lack mountains, forests and a gorgeous coastline.

But we’re hurting here just the same. And we’re also getting sick and dying from this pandemic at a terrifying pace – mainly because we also don’t have a governor like Janet Mills.

Iowa’s governor has repeatedly ignored the very advice she sought from our highly respected University of Iowa health care and public health professionals. As COVID spreads and its death toll increases in Iowa, our governor continues to say, “My numbers are better.”

And she’s opened the entire state, even while county and city leaders publicly disagree. The meatpacking plant closures are not limited to Iowa; Maine has experienced these issues, too. The difference here is that our plants supply a significant percentage of America’s demand for affordable meat. Our governor considers the packing plant workers to be just as expendable as the chickens, hogs and cattle they are paid low wages to process.

Being “open” for “business” in Iowa will cause the most vulnerable among us to get sick and die in numbers our governor claims as better than those from trained epidemiologists and public health professionals. And it’s because those scientists don’t write the big checks to finance her political ambitions, but industrial agriculture does.

Frankly, we’d love nothing more than to be in Maine right now. But for now, Gov. Mills is right, and our governor is wrong. Dead wrong, if you will. So consider this a letter From Away, but also from exile. We miss living in a state where science, public health and common sense prevail.

If you dine out or shop the meat aisle of your local store, think twice about where that pork chop, ribeye or chicken breast came from, and about the workers who are risking their lives and dying so you can scan a menu or browse the counter. True freedom does not arise from individuals acting independently, but from the common good in recognizing our mutual interdependence. Buy locally sourced foods, follow pandemic protocols and be kind.

We look forward to the time we can return and be the sort of neighbor From Away you’d appreciate.


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