COVID denialism has been constant over the last nine months and shows no sign of losing traction, no matter what happens in the real world.

A common argument you hear is that coronavirus is a big problem only for a small number of people, especially in Maine, and doesn’t justify the society-wide response that has changed our lives over the last few months.

To this way of thinking, the nearly 20,000 Mainers who have been infected so far represent only 1.4 percent of the state’s population, meaning that for 98.6 percent of us, it’s a nonissue. The people who are downplaying the impact of COVID say that protecting such a small group was not worth the loss of economic activity, especially in businesses that can’t operate safely and productively while observing social distancing.

Most people can see the flaws in this argument, and it’s tempting to ignore them. But it’s brought up so frequently that it is in danger of spreading like the virus itself and its flaws need to be addressed as we set new records for cases on nearly a daily basis.

First of all, 20,000 people in Maine is not a small number. That’s about the size of a large town or medium-sized city in this state. Think the entire population of a place like Augusta, Brunswick or Sanford all getting sick before writing it off.

COVID, which barely existed this time last year, is currently the nation’s leading cause of death and will remain so for some weeks to come, when, hopefully, enough high-risk people will have been vaccinated. But even if the death toll starts to decline, this is still a hugely communicable virus that makes some people very ill, with what could be lifelong complications for survivors.

It’s ironic that the same people who claim we don’t need to worry about a small number of cases also criticize the public health emergency orders issued by Gov. Mills.

Maine is one of the safest places in the country because of those emergency orders. If Mills had listened to the protesters who gathered outside the Blaine House last April and May, and removed all restrictions on mass gatherings and indoor activities, we would have caseloads similar to those found in states like Nebraska or South Dakota, where governors decided to make public health a matter of personal choice.

Nearly 500 Mainers are testing positive for COVID every day. New cases are being diagnosed at 10 times the rate we saw as recently as October. The only thing stopping this community spread from turning into exponential spread is avoiding the kind of conduct that we know will spread the disease until the new vaccines are widely distributed.

We all have a stake in controlling the spread of coronavirus, even if only a small percentage of us have gotten sick so far. COVID-19 is not a hoax, and Maine’s response is not an overreaction.

Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that it is.

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