Last Thursday, Maine had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has circled the globe in just a few months.

By Friday, there were three cases in the state. On Saturday there were a total of six cases and on Sunday the number was 12 – if you combined the testing done by the state Center for Disease Control and private testing done by health organizations.

By Monday morning, as a result of the various forms of testing, five more cases were confirmed or likely, for a total of 17 individuals. Coronavirus is here and it has spread throughout the state. These are not all instances of people who were infected during foreign travel. The CDC reports evidence of the virus spreading within communities.

The only way to slow its explosive growth is for individuals to follow the advice of public health authorities: Wash your hands frequently and limit your contact with other people.

Many Mainers are following this advice. Schools and colleges are closed, sports and entertainment events have been postponed and businesses – including the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel – are having employees work remotely if they can.

Not everyone is taking the threat seriously, however. We are still hearing about people who think the risk is exaggerated and who are proudly flouting the public health guidance by going to bars and engaging public gatherings. That is a big mistake.

The number of confirmed cases in Maine may sound small, but the rate of growth is terrifying. If everyone infected by the virus passes it on to just one other person, the number of cases will keep doubling and what looks like a manageable problem could quickly become a crisis.

That’s what happened in Italy when the numbers of affected people suddenly exploded beyond what hospitals could manage. South Korea, which has used a robust testing program to identify and isolate people who are infected, has found large numbers of apparently healthy young people who show no symptoms but are still contagious.

We need a government response to contain this disease and minimize its effects. But each of us also needs to take our individual responsibility seriously. We need to behave as if we and everyone we encounter is carrying the virus.

We know the virus is here, and we know that it is spreading in communities. It’s up to each of us to slow it down.

SWIFT ECONOMIC INTERVENTION NEEDED BY CONGRESS

Social distancing is a good public health practice, but it’s not going to be good for the economy.

Telling people to stay home, avoid crowds and cancel discretionary travel will have an impact, especially in a state like Maine that is so reliant on tourism.

Businesses will lose revenue, employees will lose hours or even their jobs. Families will be affected by the virus even if no one in the household ever becomes infected.

A bipartisan aid package is under negotiation in Congress. It should focus on getting aid directly to people who have been hurt by the business slowdown that good public health practices demand.

Putting money into the hands of people who will spend it on food and rent can head off a recession, or at least lessen its impact.

This kind of intervention is just as important as the efforts to fight the virus.


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