With coronavirus raging across the sunbelt, it’s easy to think that Maine has nothing to worry about.

Patrick Saunders, an employee at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, sanitizes patio furniture poolside this month. Now is not the time to ease up on safety measures. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

While Florida and Arizona are reporting record numbers of new cases, Maine has successfully flattened the curve, keeping the number of new cases below the number of recoveries. Maine is one of the few places in America where COVID cases are actually declining.

This is predictably leading to renewed political pressure on Gov. Mills to ease the public health restrictions that are hurting seasonal businesses that are watching their summer slip away. We sympathize with the representatives of the hospitality industry who want a chance to finish the summer on a positive note. But ending restrictions on visitors from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and increasing the limit gatherings from 50 people to 150, is too big a risk to take.

Mills should not back off. With an effective vaccine months away at best, the only way to control the spread of the virus are the public health measures that have become all too familiar over the last four months: an emphasis on hand hygiene, physical distancing when it is possible and wearing a face covering when it is not.

Maine’s low numbers of cases should not fool us into thinking that this virus won’t spread here as it has in other states. The experience of places like Florida and Southern California show how quickly things can get out of control. It’s possible to manage the virus when the case counts are low, but when there is explosive growth, you can’t identify and isolate infected people fast enough because the capacity to test and conduct contact tracing becomes overwhelmed. As the hospital beds fill up, there’s little that can be done.

As the start of the school year approaches, Maine is in an enviable position because the case counts are low. While school districts in COVID hot spots have announced that they will have to begin the year with all students working from home, many schools here will be able to reopen if they can meet elevated hygiene standards.

But if cases spike in August, those plans will have to be scrapped. Keeping kids at home will continue a child care nightmare for parents, making it harder for them to go back to work and adding to the economic impact of a lost summer.

The hospitality industry is right to look to the government for relief, but their focus should be on Washington, not on Augusta.

Congress should be voting on a COVID relief package that offers help to small businesses that could get wiped out by this crisis. COVID is a natural disaster, and just as with hurricanes and earthquakes, businesses will need support to rebuild after the crisis is over.

But Maine should not abandon the measures that have worked so far.


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