On March 12, 2020, we learned that a Navy reservist from Androscoggin County came down with flu-like symptoms serious enough to send her to the Central Maine Medical Center emergency department. There she tested positive for COVID-19, making her Maine’s first confirmed case in the global pandemic.

Just two weeks later, Maine counted its first COVID death, Albert “Kerck” Kelsey, a retired banker with a passion for history who lived at the OceanView retirement community in Falmouth.

In the last two years, Maine has recorded more than 230,000 known infections, and we have lost 2,140 lives. COVID is a leading cause of death, on par with heart disease and cancer. In one way or another, it has affected everyone.

COVID has forced changes to the health care system, schools at all levels, the workplace and consumer behavior in ways that we may not fully understand for some time. It has affected social relationships, how families get together, what they do for entertainment – even how they worship.

We have all been through a traumatic experience over the last two years, and we should expect it to influence us in ways that are not always apparent in the moment. It has forced us to accept that we don’t know what’s going to happen next year, next month or even tomorrow. That uncertainty takes its toll, even on those of us lucky enough not to be directly affected.

COVID-related isolation has been linked to reports of depression and anxiety, as well as suicide, fatal drug overdoses and assaults reported to domestic violence hotlines.


It also appears to have heightened a preexisting condition – political polarization and distrust. Anger over how best to deal with the crisis has driven the wedges even deeper along familiar fault lines, turning best-guess public health measures into fighting words.

We have often used this space to say where we stand on this divide, and we will do so again in the future.

But on this anniversary, it’s enough to say that few people were prepared for a disaster that would kill nearly 1 million Americans in such a short time. In some cases, the responses weren’t quick enough. As the data came in, some of the public health guidance had to change. By now, most of us have had to learn how to coexist with others who have different tolerance for risk.

And Maine can be proud of the way its people responded to this crisis. Most of us observed common-sense precautions like mask-wearing and avoiding crowded indoor settings when rates of transmission were high. We have among the highest rates of vaccination in the country and among the fewest deaths.

But we should not forget the cost. People have lost family members without being able to say goodbye because hospitals had to restrict visitors. Funerals, weddings, graduation parties and other important occasions had to be canceled, postponed or scaled back.

Health care workers have been put under enormous stress, causing some to leave the profession and compounding the pressure on those who stayed.

Students have lost ground in their education, athletes have lost opportunities to compete. Restaurants and bars have lost business or permanently closed their doors.

We need to remember that all of these losses were caused by the virus, not by our response to the virus. Almost all of the government-mandated restrictions have been lifted for many months. What we are experiencing now are the ways in which the pandemic has changed us and our world.

Until this is behind us, we need to be patient with each other and humble about how much we still have to learn. As we first wrote in March 2o2o, for better or worse, we are all in this together.

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