Tom Murphy’s July 2 column details the economic hardship Mainers have suffered due to the COVID lockdown, but fails to acknowledge its dramatic success in saving lives. The fact is, Gov. Mills has delivered an exceptionally strong performance against the global pandemic.

Only six states have a lower per-capita COVID infection rate than Maine. Only eight have a lower death rate. This is outstanding, especially given the age of our populations and our exposure to visitors from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where nearly 2 percent of the population has been infected and deaths exceed 55,000.

York County’s infection rate is one-sixth that of Massachusetts. Our death rate is 1/24th. Had we suffered the same death rate as Massachusetts, an additional 250 York county citizens would be dead. At New York rates, we’d have lost 350 more than we have. Mr. Murphy bemoans how attendance at funerals has been, by law, restricted to very few people. If he’d had his way, he could have seen more friends at funerals, and attended hundreds more of them.

Lest we consider our low infection rate to be proof of an overreaction, witness the current surge in states that took too few precautions or opened up too early. Florida is posting daily infection totals as large as New York’s at its peak. New hot spots rage across rural counties in arcs from Florida to Texas, and Pennsylvania to Minnesota.

A man runs past artwork Monday in Lewiston. A high school student created the artwork to encourage people to wear face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. Daryn Slover photo/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

But 13 of Maine’s 16 counties are virtually COVID-free. This success is not good fortune. It’s the consequence of sound policy, implemented despite grossly ill-conceived, if not ill-intentioned, political opposition. Economic activity is now returning to Maine while southern states are resuming restrictions with no end in sight. Evidence from Florida suggests that a faster reopening would have harmed, not aided, Maine’s economy over the long haul, by requiring a longer period of renewed restrictions.

It’s no surprise Republican politicians like Mr. Murphy are trying to politicize life-saving health measures. They’ve got to make the best of a weak political hand. Recall that on the brink of the most serious global pandemic in a century, Maine’s GOP was hellbent on weakening the state’s vaccine laws. Over 70 percent of Maine voters rejected this quackery.

Now, since the Trump administration so thoroughly bungled the early response to the pandemic, our nation has suffered job losses on the scale of the Great Depression and daily mortality that exceeds average daily battle deaths in the Civil War. But fear not, America. The Trump administration is addressing this crisis by boldly defending our nation’s most vulnerable: monuments to the traitors who took up arms against us.

It’s this same kind of courageous thinking, I can only assume, that leads Mr. Murphy to identify protesters for racial justice as the true culprits in Maine’s public health crisis. While he decries these large public gatherings, he was silent about similar gatherings organized by his political party to protest public health protection. To be clear, there is no evidence that any protest against racial injustice has been a ‘super-spreader’ event. They have been held outdoors, with widespread mask use, and respect for personal distance.

For real super-spreader risk, look to recent Trump rallies in Tulsa, Arizona and South Dakota, where unmasked crowds sat or stood elbow-to-elbow for hours.

But Mr. Murphy seems nonetheless concerned that protests for racial justice are spreading an infection across York County. And I think he’s right. Having attended four events in Kennebunk in the past month, I’ve witnessed the contagion first-hand. It’s epidemic, especially among young adults. They are calling for an end to generations of systemic racism. They have taken to the streets and parks to announce that race-baiting, vote-suppressing, mass-incarcerating, police-militarizing policies must end.

Perhaps protests are “just theater.” But theater changes minds. And changed minds vote. Tom Murphy can take heart that we are doing as he suggests: “carrying reform proposals to local, state, and federal officeholders and this year’s candidates” – beginning with our ballots.

Dan Sayre is a Kennebunk resident. He can be reached at [email protected]

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