The number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb, but Maine people have reason to be hopeful.

At a time when social distancing is the best way to stop the spread of a disease for which there is no vaccine, we are seeing evidence that many Mainers are taking their responsibility seriously.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many people are following the guidelines, there is some data from local governments, the Maine Department of Transportation and cellphone service providers to suggest that a significant number are doing their parts.

That’s important. According to modeling by the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention, small differences in how committed people are to social distancing affect the rate at which the virus is transmitted. The difference between low compliance and high compliance in Maine could be thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths.

The state government has taken a number of steps to move us on the right track. By executive order, Gov. Mills shut down bars and restaurants, non-essential public-facing businesses and public gatherings in a series of executive orders. Large employers in both the public and private sectors have sent workers home. And essential service providers, like grocery stores, have taken steps to ensure people can access them as safely as possible.

As individuals, we have all been asked to step up, stay home whenever possible and minimize our contact with people who might infect us or who we might infect if we are carrying the virus without knowing it. Slowing the spread of coronavirus requires both a group effort and individual discipline.

Where is the proof that it’s working? It’s not in the number of new cases, which has doubled in just over a week. Without access to more testing capacity, we can only guess the actual number of cases, but we have to assume that it is larger, maybe even much larger, than what has been officially reported.

But there are some signs that people are doing the things we need to do to slow the spread.

The DOT recorded a 20 percent drop in traffic volume around the state between Wednesday and Thursday of last week, when the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect. More detailed information has come from Google, which tracks users of its Maps application. The company reports a decline of up to 50 percent in trips taken in Maine, particularly in Cumberland County. Verizon estimates a similar drop in traffic volume, based on their records of where people used their cellphones.

In Portland, there have been other signs that people are not doing business as usual. Revenues collected from parking meters have collapsed, and so have fees collected at the city’s airport. Concord Coach, the interstate bus company, has suspended its service during the crisis.

None of these signals that the end of the COVID-19 outbreak is in sight, but they do offer a glimmer of hope.

Social distancing remains the only thing that can slow the exponential spread of the virus, and the evidence suggests that Maine people are doing it. That’s good news. If Mainers can keep at it, we may see even better news in the weeks ahead.


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