There is only one way to say it: As COVID-19 surges nearly everywhere and we sit on the brink of long, sad, frustrating winter, Congress and the president are failing the American people. 

President Donald Trump long ago gave up on the crisis and simply has no interest in governing.

But we were hoping Congress would be better — that they would get past their designation as Democrats and Republicans and do their job. They did it once, back in March, when they passed the CARES Act, which while imperfect largely kept individuals and businesses afloat and avoided what could have been a disastrous summer.

Now, it appears that they only put that disaster off for a few months. When the CARES Act was signed into law, the U.S. had recorded just under 86,000 total cases of COVID-19. The U.S. passed 11 million cases this week, just six days after reaching 10 million, as the virus threatens to overwhelm the health care system and ruin businesses.

The benefits and protections that helped Americans through the initial phase of the pandemic have either run out or will soon. The same can be said for the financial resources of millions of Americans. If they don’t get help soon, the suffering will be enormous and long-lasting.

The stimulus checks every American received are long gone. Enhanced unemployment benefits, too. Even the extra weeks of lower unemployment benefits will soon disappear, as will assistance for millions of gig workers, student loan forbearance, small business relief and the eviction moratorium.

Republicans have opposed continuing a lot of these programs. Instead, they have sought to end virus-related restrictions put on commerce, arguing that getting back to business is the best way get through the pandemic.

But it was never the restrictions holding back the economy — it was the virus. People, in large part, were staying home because they feared getting themselves and their loved ones sick, not because restaurants were only allowed half capacity.

And people have stayed unemployed not because they don’t want to work, but because they had no choice. The Press Herald talked to Mainers facing that very scenario — single parents trying to juggle remote learning for their kids with no child care available, and seniors unable to go back to work because of their high risk of complications from COVID.

Now, those Mainers are left with no savings, running out of paltry unemployment benefits, facing eviction. Hunger and homelessness are on the rise, approaching record levels.

And businesses are not being saved. Even many of those initially helped by the CARES Act have been forced to close — they can’t survive in an economy hamstrung by an out-of-control virus.

No, reopening businesses only gave the virus places it could spread. And with too many Americans having decided — under the direction of the president and nearly the entire Republican Party — to forgo masks and physical distancing, it has had too much fuel.

There have now been more than 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., with more than 1,100 new ones coming every day.

Maine, once quiet, is on the verge of something awful. So far, we’ve experienced personal isolation and economic distress, but have largely missed the worst of the virus. However, Maine recorded 246 new cases on Tuesday, for a seven-day average of about 190, up from 91 two weeks ago and 30 a month ago.

The winter surge, expected since the beginning of the pandemic, is here. It is everywhere, in fact.

To get through it, we need people to heed the advice of public health experts: wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid gatherings outside your household.

And we need Congress to give individuals and businesses the support they need to weather the worst of it.

Vaccines are coming soon. So is a president, Joe Biden, who will take the virus seriously.

But before that, a grim winter awaits. Just how grim is up to Congress.

 


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