The classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” contains the famous line, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” In our new COVID-19 world, we should coin a new saying: “Every time someone wears a mask, a business stays afloat.”

Compared to the rest of the United States, where the novel coronavirus is spreading unchecked, Maine is still in good shape. However, containment of this health threat can change quickly. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.

According to the latest data, Maine’s seven-day average of new cases is the highest the state has had since late June. As cold weather approaches and forces more people indoors, where the virus can transmit more easily, it’s critical that people not get complacent about measures to stop the spread.

Preventative measures are not just a matter of life and death for many people in Maine; they’re a matter of life and death for many Maine businesses as well. According to some of the top economists in the country, “until we control the spread of the virus, every attempt to reopen our economy will fail.” Fear of spreading or contracting COVID-19 is a potent economic deterrent, with far reaching consequences. If a state’s economy is fully open, but it hasn’t tamped down COVID-19, then people will be afraid of visiting local businesses, and restaurant workers could expose themselves and their families to the virus just by showing up for work.

So far, Maine has done a good job of curbing the spread of the virus and keeping case levels among the lowest in the country. The state ranked No. 1 in a recent economic model rating all states based on how much of the economy has reopened since the onset of the pandemic and the initial round of shutdowns.

Let’s compare Maine to Wisconsin, one of the hottest hot spots for COVID infections right now. Maine has 2.4 new cases per 100,000 people on average, while Wisconsin has more than 70 new cases per 100,000 people. Wisconsin’s hospitals are overflowing with sick COVID-19 patients, and the state is recording some of its highest daily death tolls in recent days. While Maine’s economy has almost fully reopened, Wisconsin lifted all restrictions much earlier, and its economic comeback ranks 28th in the country.

Maine’s success clearly shows that there’s no trade-off between public health and the economy. In fact, the key to reopening safely, and staying open, is to protect our health. That’s happened thanks to clear-headed leadership from Maine’s public officials, and a willingness on behalf of most Mainers to follow experts’ public health advice to protect each other – wearing masks and socially distancing from people outside of our immediate households.

These simple interventions like mask wearing work. A study out of Arizona, which had a massive virus surge in the summer, showed that COVID-19 cases dropped by 75 percent after local mask mandates were put in place. Experts say universal mask wearing could prevent nearly 130,000 deaths in the United States through next spring.

We all deserve a pat on the back, especially Maine’s small-business community, which has adapted to incredibly challenging circumstances to keep customers and employees as safe as possible.

But let’s not let our guards down. The surges we’re seeing across the country could very well happen here, and it would risk lives and livelihoods. But if we all do what it takes to keep each other safe, we’ll also safeguard Maine’s businesses.

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