Abby Naborowsky, right, chats with Molly Daniel as Naborowsky’s dog, Walter, leans in with an offer to finish their lunch June 10 at Capitol Park in Augusta. The lifelong friends from Augusta were catching up about working as nurses while the mutt pitched its requests for food. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

My husband, Paul, and I went for a hike the other day. We hadn’t ventured out of the capital area since March, and were long overdue for a day trip to the coast.

Eventually, we turned off the trail and came onto a beach. There were two people sitting on a huge log with an adorable puppy. We exchanged greetings from a distance.

Paul and I sat down and got out our lunch. A family then arrived. We heard a parent say to a little girl of about 3, “Well, you’ll have to ask them if you can pet the puppy.”

“Wait,” I wanted to shout. “Don’t you know there’s a pandemic going on?”

I think people are starting to forget. I certainly can understand why. It’s scary. Let’s believe it’s over.

There also seems to be a widespread misconception that we can’t contract the virus outside. Of course we can. It’s just less likely. But when we stick our faces near somebody else’s, we are at as much risk outdoors as in.

Which is exactly what happened. Yes, the puppy’s unmasked owners let the unmasked tot come right up to the dog, unmasked parents in tow. Not once, but twice. And one of the owners appeared to be in his late-60s.

Paul and I, meanwhile, had stowed masks in our backpacks in case the preserve was crowded and we couldn’t practice physical distancing. Luckily, we could — as long as we resisted the urge to pet cute puppies.

My fear of face-to-face contact with people is getting worse, not better. For one thing, my fear is now a habit. Paul will ask me if I’ve seen anyone I know at the supermarket (just about the only place I go) and I say “How could I tell?” Most people are wearing masks, and I’m not looking at anyone anyhow. I am single-mindedly zipping through those aisles.

Another factor is this gradual slippage that I’m noticing. Small groups of friends congregating. Families who live in different households visiting. People who work together walking together. All without practicing social distancing or wearing masks.

This is human nature. We are used to avoiding people who cough or sneeze. Grandma will postpone seeing her new grandson if she has so much as a sniffle. But COVID-19 is transmissible by people who don’t have symptoms. I feel horrible that I’ve had to remind myself of this on the few occasions since March when I’ve been face-to-face with my colleagues. Of course I trust them not to come to work when they’re sick. But people can spread this virus without ever developing symptoms themselves.

I could be a carrier, too.

It’s easy for us to feel complacent in Maine. Here in Kennebec County we’ve had (at this writing) 137 cases. We have had a measured reopening in Maine which seems to be working much better than it is in some other states, which are seeing huge spikes in cases, likely because they reopened too quickly.

And, the experts warn, a resurgence could happen anywhere, within weeks. I personally think we’re lucky if we’re through with this thing by early 2021.

As Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said on Monday, it’s not time to “take our foot off the gas.”

The reason the situation is better here — for now — is that we played by the rules. Not 100%, of course. But enough to flatten the curve.

I don’t believe this improvement is due to warmer weather. That may be another misconception fueling the slippage in behavior.

I’m concerned, too, that the arrival of out-of-state visitors could add to the complacency trend. For people who own property here, Maine already seems like a safe haven. Our numbers are relatively low, we’re a rural state — why not let our guard down? Also, some folks are coming from places where flaunting the recommended protocols is more acceptable (or legal). For example, an unmasked woman stepped out of a car with out-of-state plates in the supermarket parking lot recently and offered to take my empty carriage.

I haven’t touched an unsanitized carriage handle in weeks, and before that I was bringing my own wipes to clean them.

And lest I sound like an alarmist, I consider myself squarely in the middle of the pandemic fear spectrum. I don’t wear gloves in the market, wipe down my groceries or wash my fruits or veggies with soap.

Most of the time, my simple rules are: Wear a mask indoors in public places; physically distance; don’t touch your face without washing your hands first.

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught me, it is that I want to touch my face approximately 50 times a day.

Back at the beach, Paul and I packed up our belongings and got back on the trail. A couple with a dog was heading our way. We stepped off the trail to let them pass at a safe distance. The man thanked us. The dog strained at its leash, toward us.

In normal times, I would have petted the dog. Instead, I think I drew back a bit. The owner said, “Oh, he’s just a big friendly guy.”

I’m sure he is. But don’t you know there’s a pandemic going on?

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].

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