In Maine, there are signs the pandemic is waning. As the highly contagious Delta variant runs its course, and mandates help increase the vaccinated population, we may – finally – be turning a corner.

Predictions of staffing shortages in hospitals, widespread after Gov. Janet Mills imposed an Oct. 1 mandate, though with enforcement delayed to Oct. 29, proved groundless. Here, as elsewhere, the proportion of staff resigning rather than taking the shot may end up around 1%.

One may question why some health professionals, who work with sick and dying patients every day, would be so resistant to taking a life-saving, safe, and overwhelmingly effective vaccine, but the important thing is that the job is getting done.

With widespread boosters available, and FDA approval – one hopes soon – for regular approval of all three vaccines used here, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the path is clear to full containment before winter indoor environments could facilitate further coronavirus spread.

COVID-19 won’t be eradicated – viruses almost never are – but the fearful toll, of 700,000 Americans and counting, and 4.6 million worldwide, will begin to diminish. It may soon be “just like the flu,” as dishonest – or at least over-optimistic – observers said back at the beginning.

Maine feels safer, as concerts, high school football and other signs of “normality” have begun to resume.

But it isn’t like this everywhere. Looking just across the border to New Hampshire, in almost every way a peer state, there are shocking and even bizarre differences.

The problem isn’t Chris Sununu, the second-term Republican governor who’s taken his responsibilities seriously from the beginning.

New Hampshire, like New York, had a high rate of nursing home deaths early on, and even now the death toll there, 1,484, is significantly higher than Maine’s, at 1,026. But Sununu exercised his emergency powers responsibly and, with some variations, his approach was much like Gov. Mills’s.

It’s hard to account, however, for the craziness that has overtaken the GOP-controlled Legislature, especially the 400-member House, which often has some odd characters since it’s remarkably easy to win a seat; Manchester alone has 24 representatives.

On Sept. 29, belligerent anti-vaccination protesters forced the cancellation of an Executive Council meeting, after state employees, fearing for their safety, were escorted out by State Police.

Ironically, one of the contracts on the agenda would have accepted federal funding to hire additional outreach workers for vaccination efforts. It has been postponed until at least Oct. 22.

New Hampshire started out well with vaccinations, but since has fallen significantly behind, and ranks last among New England states, though still well ahead of national averages.

Even more alarmingly, a prominent House leader, Rep. Ken Weyler (R-Kingston), who’s served for 31 years and chairs the Finance and Joint Fiscal committees, has insisted on providing committee members with wild disinformation. He falsely claims that “90 percent” of hospital admissions involve vaccinated people, when the opposite is true; nearly all patients gravely ill and dying from COVID haven’t been vaccinated.

Weyler calls Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. CDC infectious disease expert “the official liar,” and said, dismayingly, “There’s exaggerations on both sides.”

A Democratic member of the Fiscal Committee said Weyler distributed pamphlets claiming “that live creatures with tentacles are entering people’s bodies through the COVID vaccine.”

Sununu has clearly had enough, saying “I have repeatedly expressed directly to Speaker [Sherman] Packard about the need to remove Rep. Weyler from this position of leadership . . . disseminating this misinformation clearly shows a detachment from reality.”

Yet Packard refuses to budge, saying only, “It’s not uncommon . . . for a committee chair to share constituent information.” As for Wyler, he may have said more than he intended in telling a reporter, “If I’m a nut, why do I have others helping me?”

Finally, Weyler resigned, on Oct. 6, after national news outlets picked up the story.

One might recall that Packard is the second speaker to serve in the current legislature. The first, Dick Hinch, died last Dec. 10 of COVID, not long after attending an unmasked campaign event – back when no vaccines were yet available.

Understanding of public health does not seem to have improved among Republican House leaders since then.

Let’s face it. World-changing events, whether wars, famines or pandemics, uproot existing beliefs and lead to profound and continuing questions – mostly conducted in good faith, and rationally, but not always.

When those who encourage delusions are in positions of public responsibility, trust diminishes and the skies darken, as rumor and falsehoods flourish.

The only known witchcraft trials in America took place in Salem, Mass., from 1692 to 1693.

One begins to understand why, for far too many months, the accusers were believed.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter and author since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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