By now, 17 months since that fateful Ides of March 2020, when Gov. Janet Mills shut down the Maine economy to essential services only in a vain attempt to stem the coronavirus surge in local hospitals, I bet everyone has had a run-in with someone, somewhere regarding COVID-19 protocols.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

I’ve had a few, but yesterday, surprisingly, I had another, this time regarding face masks.

A woman in a Brunswick store told me I “really should be wearing a mask” because we’re now in the midst of the delta variant surge.

I told her politely that my personal policy regarding face masks is that I’ll wear one if a business owner has posted a sign indicating masks are “required,” but that I won’t if there is no sign or a sign indicates masks are “recommended.”

I then explained that, at this point in the virus proceedings, I’m more worried about the germs face masks harbor and concluded by saying “I’m done with the virus” to which she aptly responded, “Well, the virus isn’t done with you.”

I admired her quick-thinking response that was intended to put me in my place, but for the sake of others in the store I suggested we end the conversation there. She amicably agreed and we both kept shopping – her happily with a mask, me happily without.

I won’t say she was wrong in her request that I wear a mask. She’s just repeating what she’s heard in the media, with good intentions, I’m sure. At the heart of her argument is the notion that we need to act out of an abundance of caution because we are fighting, as former President Trump said, an invisible enemy. One can’t be too careful, as that line of thinking goes.

All levels of government, for 17 months now, have been crafting virus-related requirements and recommendations based on this abundance of caution. They, and people like the Brunswick shopper who confronted me, continue to advocate an abundance of caution despite the miracle vaccines, which have changed the virus game.

That abundance of caution, however, is still having real-world, harmful repercussions.

If you’re working, your productivity output is through the roof because your company can’t hire new people due to the generous unemployment benefits bestowed upon those staying home out of fear of the virus. (The only fear they have, if you ask me, is of a hard day’s work. And they’re taking advantage of our easily duped Mills and Biden administrations, which are throwing away taxpayers’ money.)

Abundance of caution is causing supply shortages as businesses around the world struggle to meet demand with fewer workers.

Abundance of caution is causing inflation as goods and services dry up and government devalues the dollar by printing trillions to pay for this arguably unneeded stimulus.

Abundance of caution is forcing landlords to sell their properties because the government is allowing apartment dwellers to avoid paying rent for 17 long, excruciating months now.

Abundance of caution is why Mills went unchecked by the Maine Legislature up until the emergency order was lifted recently. Because the Maine Legislature was scared to meet face to face, Mills led with an iron fist through the pandemic, and democracy died in Augusta.

Abundance of caution is why we’re still seeing kids and adults mask up, outdoors even. Nobody talks about the bacteria lining those nasty masks, especially the homemade cloth ones. (News flash: Be like a doctor by donning an N-95 mask and changing it every few hours if you want a truly effective covering.)

Speaking of the news, abundance of caution is why the media keeps playing with our psyches, making us paranoid like Monk from the popular TV series of a few years back.

Case counts are up in recent weeks as the delta variant spreads, but deaths are not. They hover around 900 in Maine and haven’t moved much, even as cases increase. Not bad for a state of 1.3 million people. That’s because most people are vaccinated, especially the old and unhealthy, and, as a result, those infected experience mild symptoms. Our media hypes case counts, but fails to equally emphasize the good news that vaccines are working and that deaths are nearly nonexistent.

They do this out of an abundance of caution because they don’t want their readers or viewers to grow complacent; they want them on the edge of paranoia in hopes that their continued fear will limit the spread.

An abundance of caution was a good idea in the beginning of the virus, but in our fully vaccinated present it merely yields an abundance of unfounded and unscientific hysteria, fiscal waste and confrontations between shoppers in stores.

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