This week, the U.S. government resumes its program of providing free COVID tests through the mail and I have the website,, bookmarked. I am ready.

Man, pandemics are tricky things. The Black Death, as remembered from my grade school studies, is haunting. We humans are always drawn to the morbid, trying to understand things so we can control them, kids doubly so. And what was so great about the bubonic plague was that it happened so long ago. It started in 1330 – I mean, we are talking Middle Ages, people. From such a distance, we can look at horror.

I always assumed that, should a great disease ever rise again – and I figured it probably would because viruses are tricky and tiny – we would have the science and the technology to defeat it. I assumed that such devastation could never happen today, not with all our advances in technology, not with what we know now.

Then came COVID-19.

Honestly, I think for the most part, my assumption actually proved true. There were a few areas of lag maybe, but really, science got ahold of the issue in decent time. The main glitch came where I least expected it: in us.

Having read all about noble “plague towns,” like Eyam, England, that, when the disease was discovered, walled itself off to keep other towns safe,  I sort of thought that dramatic gestures for the greater human good were hard-wired into our species. I mean, you know, when the chips are down and all.


It was startling and disillusioning when instead there was a violent and rude response to the simple task of masking. After all, we not only have noble sacrifice towns, we also have the example of Ferrar, Italy, a town which managed to avoid the plague entirely thanks to sanitation, quarantine and taking it seriously.

Yet here we are, a few years into our pandemic era, getting ready for another season of indoor air and taking stock. The reality is COVID-19 had a big bump over the summer with rates rising, especially here in Maine. School starting is not expected to help matters, and then here comes the flu right around the calendar corner.

More troubling is the attitude I am hearing around town, a refrain of “Does it really matter if I quarantine even though I’m positive? I mean, how bad is it anymore?”

Allow me to be clear: Yes. Yes it does matter.

It matters for all of us, but for all the people in our community who are immunocompromised – the babies, the elderly, the person in chemo – it is a really big deal. We need to work together to keep COVID out of their airstream.

All of the same CDC requirements from before apply. Be smart, wash hands – really clean them, like we learned how – stay home if you’re sick, mask for five days after you are clear, and know if those sniffles are allergies or COVID. Test when you have symptoms.


Which is why the free test revival is so fantastic. Thank you, U.S. government, for giving us a tool necessary to get ahead of the autumn/winter surge.

The Bubonic Plague began, as I noted in 1330. But what we forget is that it lasted until 1770. That’s 440 years. That’s a long time. Technically, the virus is still alive and well and found in our Southwestern states, and every year a few cases are diagnosed, but I digress.

When it comes to COVID-19, we don’t have it beaten, but we have tools. Get your boosters if you are able, wear a mask when you have the sniffles or are around others who do, wash those hands and test. Test early, test often and follow your guidelines.

The new rules aren’t always easy, they are certainly inconvenient, but surely with what we know now, we can band together to make life better than the Middle Ages.

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