Vaccinations are way up. Cases are way down.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, left, Gov. Mills, center, and American Sign Language interpreter Josh Seal present the last regularly scheduled coronavirus news conference in Augusta on Wednesday, the same day the governor allowed the state of emergency to lapse. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Unlike a year ago, when because of COVID-19 most Mainers had canceled or severely cut back their Fourth of July plans, and were beginning to endure a summer of masks and social distancing, we can look forward to a (mostly) full holiday followed by some (almost) restriction-free fun.

This July Fourth, Maine has earned its fun.

Last week, the rolling seven-day daily average for COVID cases in Maine fell below 25, down from 181 just a month ago. By whatever measure you choose, Maine has been a leader in vaccinations, too, with about 70% of those eligible getting their shots.

It was appropriate, then, for Gov. Mills to allow the nearly 16-month-old state of emergency to lapse Wednesday.

Those orders gave Mills extraordinary powers, allowing her to institute mask mandates and limit gatherings and indoor capacity. But she used them rather lightly.

Advertisement

Indeed, most of what people do takes place – thankfully – outside the view of government, so these rules, in those cases, served more as suggestions.

Instead, Maine’s success against the virus was going to depend on how well we followed the rules when no one was looking. It was going to depend on how well Mainers could put the safety of others above their own discomfort or disappointment.

And for the most part, Mainers were willing to follow the rules if it meant keeping their communities safe.

“The adjustments we made to meet the challenges of a new and changing virus would not have been possible without the commitment of Maine people,” Mills said Wednesday, at the final planned briefing on COVID-19. “We asked you to stay home. We asked people to wear masks and avoid large gatherings and you did.”

Maine’s record has not been spotless, but it has been better than most.

Mills issued the emergency order on March 15, 2020, three days after the first reported case was found here.

Advertisement

By July, those emergency measures, as well as the summer weather, had slowed the spread of COVID and our economy was gradually reopening, getting ready for what would be a slow, but better-than-expected summer tourism season – thanks largely to how safe it was here.

But at the same time, cases were exploding nationally, setting what were then single-day records. They’d spike after the July 4 holiday, then again after Thanksgiving and Christmas, to heights that made the summer spikes look tame.

A lot of the same areas that failed to take the virus seriously and paid the price remain in peril, with the more-transmissible Delta variant a huge threat to areas with low vaccination rates.

In Maine, however, with daily reported cases as low as single digits and vaccination rates higher than 90% in some communities, most residents can feel safe resuming much of their lives.

Maine is not completely done with COVID, of course. Kids under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, forcing some parents to make tough calculations on summer activities. There will be challenges to overcome this fall, when kids go back to school and people are starting to spend more time indoors.

Many Mainers, too, still have older loved ones who, for one reason or another, have not been vaccinated. There are still reasons to be concerned.

Advertisement

And of course, nothing will replace the loss of more than 800 Mainers to COVID-19. More than 69,000 of us got sick, and many are still dealing with the aftereffects.

But Maine has gotten through the worst of it, and gotten through it well. There’s no reason to believe we won’t handle the remaining challenges just the same.

So this Fourth of July, celebrate the founding of our country. Celebrate our independence from the virus, too.

But most of all, let’s celebrate how many Mainers put themselves before others – and made the last, horrible year the best that it could be.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.