When the coronavirus hit, Maine got lucky. It’s hard to believe that when you count 4,500 people sickened, 132 dead and 80,000 people out of work, but things could be much worse.

We owe a lot to public health officials at the state and local levels who recognized the danger and took steps to slow the spread of the virus. And everyone who has listened to the medical experts and observed safety guidelines even when there was no one watching also deserve some of the credit for making the state a national leader in keeping infections low.

But we also have to admit that we were lucky.

The virus hit Maine in early March, so our shutdown took place in a low season for tourism. There is no good time of year to turn off a businesses revenue stream, but if you had to pick a Maine season to shut your doors, early spring is probably the least bad option for many.

And when Maine was ready to start reopening businesses that serve the public, it was almost summertime, when most people prefer to be outside as much as possible anyway.

TENTS AND HEATERS

Now, Maine restaurant proprietors are experimenting with tents and heaters to try to extend the outdoor dining experience into the autumn, and many are hopeful that they will be able to keep their customers comfortable beyond the time of year that we usually think is suitable for outdoor dining.

They aren’t the only ones who should be thinking ahead. The rosiest projections would have a coronavirus vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration no sooner than the end of the year.

Once that happens it will take some months for a vaccine to be administered widely enough to make indoor gathering safe again.

All of us should be making plans for handling a long, hard winter. Whether you are working, relaxing or socializing with family and friends, it will take extra effort to be safe.

GOING INSIDE

In June, we saw what happened in the South and Southwest, when people flocked to air-conditioned spaces as temperatures started to climb. We could see a similar infection spike in Maine if we head back to heated spaces indoors without taking precautions.

At least we know what to do. Absent a vaccine, the only way to stop the spread of this virus is to keep safe distances, wear masks and wash our hands frequently and thoroughly.

We also know what not to do: An Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket showed what could happen if you ignore the rules. So far, over 130 cases of COVID in three counties have been traced back to the wedding reception that exceeded the state’s limit of 50 guests, few of whom were wearing masks.

As colleges and schools reopen and the weather gets cooler, what happened in Millinocket last month could be repeated all over the state.

Maine caught a break with the timing of the virus, but our luck won’t last forever.


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