It’s too soon to let our guard down. We still need to protect ourselves and our neighbors by safe behaviors. But it is not too soon to start thinking about what we want the new Maine to look like after we reemerge from this crisis. It’s time to start to reimagine Maine, not just reopen Maine.

Let’s start with what we’ve learned.

By the time the first wave of this crisis is over, an estimated 35 million Americans will lose their health insurance because they have lost their job. In Canada, England, Germany, France and 14 other industrialized countries, this number will be zero. That isbecause they have universal health care – the equivalent, in this nation, of “Medicare for All.”

Prior to the coronavirus, we were told that many Americans liked their employer-provided insurance. But of what value is health insurance if, when a true crisis arises, it is no longer available? The lack of reliability of employer-provided health insurance has negative public health effects beyond the individual and his or her family. A fear of a losing a job that provides health insurance causes many people to go to work even when they are sick, and exposes fellow workers to infection. High co-pays associated with employer-provided insurance causes many people to avoid getting preventative tests, again aggravating the initial effects of a pandemic.

Finally, the provision of expensive health insurance burdens our businesses, large and small; when a medical and economic crisis occurs, a reduced cash flow due to health costs causes businesses to lay off workers more quickly, and ultimately compromises the capacity of our

businesses to survive the downturn at all.

Lesson number one from the coronavirus – the United States needs to join the rest of the developed world and provide universal health insurance with no connection to employers. The current best idea for this in the United States is Medicare for All.

Here’s another thing. Oil and gas consumption is expected to have fallen by 30 percent to 40 percent this past March 2 . Carbon emissions that harm the environment are down. Air pollution in general is down. The hole in the ozone layer is shrinking. The sky is clear. People with asthma and lung conditions can breathe more easily.

Our trees, our wildlife, our fisheries, all are healthier.  We must continue, long term,  to reduce our gas and oil usage. We can rebuild our economy with new sources of energy, that don’t foul the air and water and cause sickness. Some in Maine whose jobs depend on gas

and oil will be threatened. But they can be retrained and put to work in good-paying jobs that will build the solar, wind, ocean and other alternative power sources for Maine’s future.

Lesson number two: the moment for implementing the Green New Deal is now.

The third lesson we have learned is that access to broadband is even more important than we thought.

Students staying home from school continued their education online – that is, those students whose parents have computers and can afford and have internet access. Many students from low-income

families, many students and teachers living in remote rural areas, do not have internet and computers. They normally face many obstacles in the course of a typical school year; in a crisis like this, they fall further behind their better-off classmates. Likewise, for the elderly, people dealing with mental health issues and kids with special needs, telehealth has been an important way to get treatment without being exposed to infection.

Finally, for small businesses, sales over the internet can be a lifeline in a crisis – but again, not available to everyone.

Maine needs universal, affordable broadband. We need a national equivalent of FDR’s Rural

Electrification Program, that ensured that electricity reached every remote farmhouse to get high speed broadband to every home and business in Maine.

There are many more lessons to be had – about food production and security, about economic supports for self employed people, about who is “essential” and how they are treated.  And the opportunities for us to build communities and care about each other.

The coronavirus crisis – at least this first phase – will end soon. But we need to use this opportunity to start understanding now the lessons it has taught us, and using those lessons to  build a new Maine and nation as we emerge from this crisis.


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