This weekend we will celebrate the most American of holidays, Independence Day, the Fourth of July. It brings to mind another holiday, three months ago.

On the morning of March 16, I woke up at 5 in a sweat. This is a relatively normal occurrence for me as we prepare for St. Patrick’s Day, but this year was different. I immediately pulled up notifications about crowds of St. Patrick’s Day revelers in cities like Chicago. The optics were horrifying. Panic set in. We were about to operate one of the busiest Irish pubs in New England just as the pandemic was hitting Maine.

I fired off emails to my Guinness distributor, local community leaders, the mayor and the city manager. A rival Irish pub and a brewpub across the street decided to close. I posted our decision to close. The city manager followed with a curfew an hour later. By the end of the week, bars and restaurants across Maine and the country were closed. Irish pubs’ initiative and the disaster that would have been St. Patrick’s Day had finally been enough to convince authorities to act.

During the first month with the whole country locked down, stories of togetherness were everywhere. It felt like the America I know and love, people of all types joining together to defeat a threat to all that we love.

This weekend we will celebrate another holiday, the birth of our great nation, during what is among the greatest challenges of our lifetimes. Three months after St. Patrick’s Day, any sense of togetherness has completely evaporated. As the weather got warm, we went from ignoring social distancing to defiantly refusing to wear masks to becoming openly confrontational. As more and more people go out to restaurants and bars, the rest of the country is seeing a surge in cases. Unless we get our act together, Maine will become one of those hot spots because we will be filled with tourists from areas in the country with far more cases.

Individual freedom is a fundamental American right, but what makes us strong as a nation is coming together to defeat a threat to that freedom. Until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed, we have to use proven means to contain and reduce this deadly disease. Only social distancing and contact tracing have proven to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Masks help by reducing breath aerosol by 50 to 90 percent depending on the type of covering used. Being outside also helps because outside there is more airflow, dispersing droplets from speaking and breathing, but it only reduces transmission. We still need to keep distanced and wear masks when greeting strangers.

It is selfish if you refuse to wear a mask, because the mask reduces the likelihood you give the virus to someone else. It is not a shield. By wearing a mask and keeping at least 6 feet apart, you are telling strangers that you care about them. That is what it means to be American!

Restaurants and bars are running out of money and need to earn forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Unfortunately, responsible operators who adhere to guidelines lose money because they are operating at less than half of their capacity – with rents and expenses at full capacity. So many try to get away with fitting more people in, waiting for someone to tell them to do the right thing. The problem is if you fail to space your tables 6 feet apart, ensure that customers wear masks when not consuming food and beverages, sanitize surfaces after every use and take reservations with customers’ contact information, you are hurting yourself, your employees and your customers.

If all of this is going to work, government leaders have to provide restaurants and bars with the financial relief they need to keep their businesses going without operating irresponsibly. Incentivize them to do the right thing, not risk the lives of their customers and employees. The alternative is economic devastation, and that isn’t very American.

This is our American moment. Beginning this Fourth of July weekend, let’s turn this around and do what it takes to defeat COVID-19!

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