The numbers tell the story. After months of leading the nation in slowing the spread of COVID-19, Maine is at risk of losing control.

New cases began to spike in November, and have held at that high level ever since.

By Wednesday, 35,638 Mainers had tested positive for the disease, and 536 had died.

The most frightening aspect is the pace at which the disease is spreading.

Maine saw only 6,798 cases in the first nine months of the pandemic, but there have been 28,840 in the last three months.

That means that 80 percent of all the cases in Maine since the first infection was discovered last March have been diagnosed since Nov. 1.

In just the last four weeks, more than 15,000 Mainers have fallen ill and 225 people have died. That’s right– 225 people dead since Christmas.

The numbers tell the story, but apparently they don’t tell it well enough.

Earlier this month, a group of Republican lawmakers violated State House COVID rules posing unmasked in the State House in videos that they broadcast on Facebook Live. Two of them were later admonished by the presiding officers for trying to get around the mask mandate by wearing a type of face shield that’s ineffective at preventing COVID’s spread.

The lax attitude is not limited to the State House. Colby College officials report seeing an increase in transmission, as students gather without masks in dining rooms and residence halls.

Too many people are behaving as if the virus was in retreat when it actually is threatening to overrun our defenses.

The winter surge in cases was a predictable result of colder weather, which sent more people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily.

It also coincides with the holiday season, during which many people ignored warnings about gathering and travel.

Promising news about the approval of two highly effective vaccines may have caused people to back off on the necessary precautions, ignoring the part of the stories that quoted doctors and public health experts who said it would be months before most people would have a chance to be immunized.

It’s likely that many people in Maine never paid attention to the public health protocols but were lucky to live in a state where infection rates were low.

But they are not low anymore, and unless people change their behavior, the weeks ahead will look as bad as the ones that have just passed.

If the numbers are overwhelming, maybe we can listen to the stories of Maine families that have been torn apart by this disease.

They include people who stood by helplessly while a loved one died alone, gasping for air, in a hospital or nursing home.

And it includes the “long haulers,” who suffer from poorly understood symptoms that don’t go away after the patient appears to have recovered from the virus.

Or people who have been overcome with depression brought on by social isolation; parents of schoolchildren; restaurant owners and their employees whose lives have been disrupted by the virus – not by the public health response to the virus, but by the virus itself.

President Biden has made COVID relief a top priority for his new administration and promises to provide leadership from the federal government, something that has been lacking over the last year. But in the best of circumstances, widespread immunity through vaccination is still months away, and if those months are anything like the last three, the pain and suffering will be more than we can bear.

The onus is on all of us to keep each other as safe as possible until the vaccines are distributed.

We know what to do: Wear a mask, avoid indoor gatherings and maintain safe distances whenever we are in public.

It’s not a political issue, it’s common sense. It’s up to us to follow the rules and let friends and family know that we expect them to follow them, too.

COVID is here and it’s getting worse. The numbers tell part of the story. We have to write the rest.

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