You could be forgiven if you look around and think the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed us.

Case numbers remain low in Maine and its two most similar neighbors, New Hampshire and Vermont. Key metrics in the hot spots of Massachusetts and New York are trending in the right direction.

Restrictions on businesses and public gatherings are being lifted daily, too, and with each image of people dining out – or gathering in large groups in protest – it makes getting back to normal seem a little less scary, particularly when a lot of folks are so eager to do so.

But the risk is far from gone, and if people use the loosened restrictions as a reason to act like they did in February, we may end up experiencing again the lockdowns of April, or something worse.

Gov. Mills said Monday said that beginning July 1, out-of-state visitors can forgo a 14-day quarantine here if they have tested negative for the virus within the prior 72 hours, part of an effort to balance public health with the needs of Maine’s $6.5 billion tourism industry.

That balancing effort is being repeated to one degree or another across the country, as states move away from the stay-at-home orders that likely saved thousands of American lives. There have been some concerning results.

Since early June, 14 states have recorded their highest seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases, including the three most populous states: California, Texas and Florida. Many of the areas being hit have a lot in common with rural Maine.

Even as the coronavirus seems to have subsided here, it is peaking elsewhere. The country is clearly not out of the woods, regardless of how much we want it to be.

Reopening the economy means, in effect, that the responsibility for slowing the spread of the virus is shifting even more from government orders to individuals and businesses.

While businesses have state “checklists” they are supposed to follow to reopen safely, enforcement will be difficult, and it will be up to each one to properly control crowds, clean surfaces and make sure employees and customers wear masks where applicable.

Each individual, too, should follow the best practices we’ve learned so far, and be ready to adjust behaviors as new information is found. That means limiting your trips out in public and their duration as much as possible, and keeping your distance while you’re there. It means washing hands and using sanitizer frequently. It means quarantining yourself and getting tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who does.

And it means wearing a mask whenever in public. Masks are not a replacement for social distancing or good hygiene, but they are another layer of protection for when you must go out.

It will be up to state government to identify and quickly respond to new cases so that they do not become outbreaks, and to relay new information to the public on how to prevent the virus and on which activities may be safe.

But more and more, it will be on individuals to recognize the risks that are still out there. It’s up to every Mainer to take responsibility for managing that risk.

We have over the last few months figured out the best tools for stopping the spread of COVID-19. We shouldn’t cast them aside now.

 


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