OK, President Biden made the call. The pandemic is over, right?

Most of us have been happy to pretend along with him. I was certainly not the last person in town to abandon my masks and resume indoor gatherings. However, we’re not yet out of the woods. On Oct. 9, 401 people died from COVID-19 in the U.S. While that number is significantly down from 1,400 per day in May, COVID, behind heart attacks and cancer, is still one of the leading causes of death in our nation. Unlike heart attacks and cancer, COVID is communicable, and the new strains that will continue to emerge are ever more so.

Why am I opining? Because in this post-pandemic Maine, we still have work to do to protect one another from communicable disease. Allow me to offer two vignettes as evidence.

In June this year, we hosted a friend from Portland who was meeting cousins from out West at Acadia; mom, dad, grandma and two nieces. The cousins were traveling by car. In New Hampshire, dad felt sick and everyone tested for COVID. Only dad tested positive. He stayed in a hotel in New Hampshire to quarantine, while the rest of the family continued on to their weekly rental in Bar Harbor. Being cautious, they tested every morning before going on the Island Explorer buses and getting ice cream at Ben and Bill’s. On their second day in Bar Harbor, mom tested positive, so she sequestered herself while grandma and the girls continued to enjoy their vacation. Meanwhile, our friend very much wanted to meet her cousins. We talked her out of it. Twenty-four hours later, they all tested positive, after enjoying everything that Bar Harbor has to offer while they were highly contagious.

Even though these visitors had not yet had a positive test result, they had certainly been exposed to the virus while in the car with dad. The obvious thing to do should have been for all of them to stay with dad, get over the virus, and then carry on with their lives. But hey, they had a vacation rental waiting in Bar Harbor, and they had their negative test results.

The next story happened recently. The adult daughter of a friend had tickets to see a concert at the Cross Center. She didn’t feel well the day of the show, so she took a COVID test before heading up to Bangor. Negative, whew! She saw the show. Midway through, while dancing, she fainted and needed to be carried out. Dehydration was certainly a factor. We won’t know if she has COVID until more test results come in.

Has the pandemic lowered the bar for common sense when we are feeling unwell? My wife has been a hairstylist for 30 years. In all of that time, the basic rule was: If you’re feeling sick, please reschedule your appointment. Now, clients are calling up to say, “I haven’t been feeling well, but I tested negative and I’d really like to keep my appointment.” Sorry, but even if my wife gets “only” the flu, she’s going to close her doors for a week and miss 20 other appointments.

Working on this piece, I was due to meet a second cousin whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years for lunch in Bar Harbor. She was on a cruise ship, sitting in Frenchman’s Bay, when she tested positive for COVID. If they had not tested, or not felt ill until the day after the lunch, I would have been exposed. I have to wonder how many passengers on that ship, which carries thousands, brought the virus to shore.

A negative COVID test does not mean you shouldn’t stay home when you are feeling unwell. Influenza still kills tens of thousands of people every year and is a huge cause of lost workdays and revenue. We need to go back to the “good old days.” If you are feeling sick, COVID or no, stay home, drink tea, take your vitamins and wait it out. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, we’ve learned that quarantining works.

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