Sanford Mayor Tom Cote had some strong words for his city’s residents last week. Everyone should listen.

The city of about 20,000 residents is at the center of the pandemic that has upended routines and changed plans throughout York County. Still, many people around town are failing to follow public health protocols.

Those people, the mayor said in a written statement posted to Facebook, are putting themselves before the rest of their community, particularly the students who are now trying to resume school under uncertain conditions.

As students throughout the state cautiously return to the classroom, with regional outbreaks a real possibility, other communities need to hear Cote’s plea: “It’s time to step up and do the right thing for our kids.”

Sanford is home to Calvary Baptist Church, whose pastor presided over the Aug. 7 wedding in the Millinocket area that has been linked to more than 150 COVID-19 cases and three deaths, including outbreaks at a Madison nursing home and the York County Jail.

The pastor continues to hold in-person services in Sanford, without the congregants wearing masks or distancing themselves, according to videos posted online.


Besides the church, there have been outbreaks in Sanford at the fire department and at two social clubs.

The outbreaks in Sanford moved the school superintendent to postpone the opening of schools and move K-4 classes to a hybrid model, with some remote learning. More families in Sanford are now choosing the remote-only learning option than in areas where there are no outbreaks.

The York County outbreak as a whole forced the state to designate the county as “yellow,” forcing schools to delay opening and modify their plans. The fall scholastic sports season has been put further at risk.

All it took was the presence of the novel coronavirus and a few careless people, and just like that the entire tenor of the fall in the city of Sanford, and wider York County, has changed.

As Mayor Cote points out, even as it was clear that COVID-19 was spreading throughout the community, many residents refused to adopt the most basic protections.

Even as schoolchildren were asked to make sacrifices – to wear a mask, to physically distance, to change their schedules and give up activities – many adults in Sanford couldn’t find it within themselves to do the same.


Now, the school year – the preparation for which was one of the main reasons so many Mainers worked so hard to slow the spread of the virus this summer – is further complicated, and students will suffer for it.

“From a community perspective, Sanford needs to start focusing on a common goal, which is to live our lives in a manner that allows our children to get back to school and stay there,” Cote wrote. “For many kids, going to school means being safe, fed, and free from abuse and neglect.

“If you are refusing to adhere to the Governor’s orders simply on the basis of your individual freedoms, then you, not the collective you, but you personally, are responsible for any delays to our kids going to school, playing sports, and participating in school activities.”

With schools reopening and the weather slowly sending people back inside, there will be an elevated risk of an outbreak no matter where you live.

To give students a shot at something close to a normal year, with all the good that would do for them, each community member will have to sacrifice some comfort for the greater good.

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