It’s been only 10 days since Maine confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has circled the globe in a matter of weeks.

Since then, the harsh reality of dealing with this pandemic has started to sink in in every corner of the state. Terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” have become part of normal conversations, and people have already taken steps that they would never have thought necessary just days earlier.

As the number of cases grows in Maine and across the nation, we are concerned about the spread of this virus and the heavy toll it will take, both in terms of lives lost and economic hardship. But we are also encouraged by the speed with which our state has responded to this crisis and the big-heartedness with which many people have met the moment. It’s going to take more of that as we prepare for a crisis of which we have not yet seen the worst.

The Legislature set a good example for the state, wrapping up its business a month early and sending lawmakers and support staff home to prevent the communication of the virus in what are normally crowded spaces. Bipartisan leadership in the Legislature negotiated a $73 million supplemental budget that will, among other things, keep schools funded through the summer of 2021. It was $50 million less than Gov. Mills proposed spending in January, a reflection of the fact that when the economy slows down this year, tax revenues will likely collapse, too.

Action by the Legislature and governor was swift and serious, but perhaps even more impressive were the steps taken on the local level, where municipalities, businesses and ordinary citizens pitched in to help the people most affected.

Schools across the state are closed, creating hardship for families who rely on school nutrition programs for free or subsidized breakfasts and lunches. On the fly, districts have improvised systems to get the food to the families, in some cases, with the help of restaurants that have been shut down for at least two weeks.

Since the virus has proven to be especially dangerous for older people, communities have come up with imaginative ways to lower risk. Some grocery stores are opening for special senior citizen hours to minimize their contact with people who might be infected. And neighborhood groups are forming to help older neighbors get groceries and prepared meals without going out.

The spirit of shared sacrifice is obvious in the way that people are taking the public health guidance. Even before Gov. Mills banned all gatherings of more than 10 people last week, all kinds of organizations had canceled meetings, performances, games and other events. Many, but not all, employers are making it easy for people to work from home to cut down their exposure. Precautions like this are our best defense against a sudden increase in the number of serious cases that would swamp the capacity of hospitals, but the strategy won’t work unless most people buy in, and so far it appears that they are.

It’s important to note that we are not at the end of this crisis, or even near the end. Coronavirus is spreading in our communities, and we don’t know how many cases there really are because of the way the federal government bungled the development of testing procedures.

We do know that unemployment claims have skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Great Recession, and they will continue to climb as the owners of restaurants and bars are forced to lay off employees. Reliable authorities caution that this pandemic will get worse before it gets better, the only questions being how bad it will get and how long will it take for us to recover.

But Mainers can take heart from the way they responded to the first week of the crisis. When the trouble came, people helped each other.

We are going to need more of that in the weeks and months ahead.


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