YORK — Maine is facing two related – and unprecedented – challenges.

We are fighting a deadly and fast-spreading new virus, and we are dealing with the harrowing impacts that fight has had on our economy.

Thousands of Maine people have lost their jobs and more than 130 have lost their lives. To state the obvious, to recover economically we must bring the spread of COVID-19 under control, and there is only one proven way to do that. We must turn to science and foster innovation, particularly in health care.

Four years ago, I wrote a column for the Press Herald about the importance of innovation to our state’s economy growth. I said: “True revitalization of the Maine economy depends not just on increasing the educational preparation of our labor force and the wages our companies are willing to pay, but also, and most importantly, on encouraging the growth of innovative companies that are intent on disrupting the traditional ways of doing business – and, thus, of daring to create the sort of change required to provide more jobs and higher wages across the board.”

My focus then was on jobs and higher wages, and that’s still important for our state. But it’s more important – more fundamental now – that we use the tools of science to break the grasp that the global pandemic has on our country. Maine, more than most other states, has effectively managed the public health consequences of COVID-19. Deaths and community spread have been limited, at least so far.

We’ve managed this where others have failed because of a few factors. Gov. Mills has put her trust in public health science and enacted policies that prioritize science over politics. Maine is geographically large, and our population is widely dispersed. Because of the governor’s sensible leadership and their own deep-seated common sense, the people of Maine have for the most part adhered to the necessary steps to keep COVID-19 in check.

Now, as we look to the next stages of the fight against COVID-19, we must redouble our commitment to good science and innovation. In Maine, we have an excellent example of an organization that is committed to scientific research and innovation. The Jackson Laboratory is a leading employer in the state, providing good-paying and important jobs. But in the words of its own values statement, it also “relentlessly pursues knowledge and drives new ideas.”

The organization’s commitment to innovation, to supporting a new understanding of facts and data and to challenging conventional wisdom is an example of the values we need as we work to overcome the coronavirus.

When we empower scientists and doctors to pursue innovative solutions to the challenges we face, we get results.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration has approved 13 new cancer treatments in just a year and a half, and scientists are developing a cure for Type 1 diabetes. About 137,000 Mainers suffer from diabetes, and 9,000 are diagnosed every year.

We need to take the politics out of our response to COVID-19. We need to recognize that as we learn more, best practices and recommendations can change and that the path through these woods is illuminated by scientific inquiry and innovation.

So, what can we do?

We must invest and support scientific inquiry and innovation; we must demand that policymakers follow science (at this point, that means mandating masks and social distancing, limiting travel and the size of gatherings and encouraging good hygiene), and we must constantly push back against misinformation and fear mongering.

There was a time not so long ago when an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. Today, there are effective treatments.

Likewise, scientists around the world are working day and night to identify a vaccine for COVID-19 and new treatments that could help ease the suffering of those with the disease and improve their chances of survival.

It’s is through a commitment to innovation, a rejection of fear and misinformation and sound science that we will find our way through this current crisis.

And as a kicker, the innovation that will protect our health is also good for our economy by helping people get back to work and by creating good-paying, important jobs.

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