I may be waiting until 616,700 Mainers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before I am.

This is based on a handy online tool provided by The New York Times. I submitted my age and county of residence; noted whether I am a health care worker, essential worker, first responder or teacher, and indicated whether I had COVID-related health risks.

As an over-60 teacher, I thought I might be a little higher in the lineup. Not that I mind. I wear my mask, keep my distance and wash my hands. I have seen that these measures work when they are consistently implemented, as they are in my school.

I’m thrilled the vaccines are coming, but I’m also anxious about getting one. I’m perfectly fine in the middle of the pack. That said, I will take the vaccine when my turn comes, because I believe it’s my civic duty. Also, I don’t want to get sick.

The New York Times tool displays a virtual line of 100 people to demonstrate where I am standing right now. Ahead of me in this order are health care workers, nursing home residents, first responders, people with health risks, other elderly people and essential workers.

It’s a nifty graphic, with health care providers in their scrubs and young adults with their backpacks and hoodies. Everyone is wearing a mask.

I wondered what exactly an essential worker is. There are an estimated 41,000 of them in Maine. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the term covers employees in 12 different fields, including food and agriculture, information technology, and water and wastewater management.

If I’m sounding like a COVID-19 geek right about now, it’s because I am. I’m a school librarian with a background in journalism, so I firmly believe knowledge is power. I haven’t missed one of Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah’s news briefings since he began doing them in March. If I’m working or otherwise busy at 2 p.m., I watch it online later.

I want to know how many new cases there are and where the outbreaks are happening. A grim narrative has unfolded over the past nine months. In the beginning, uncertainty and fear. Then, hopefulness with so few cases in the summer. Now, a surge, with higher and higher numbers and many more outbreaks.

I’ve been fascinated — and impressed — with the rapid growth of our knowledge about this virus. Our last day of school before the shutdown was March 13. The first case in Maine had been announced the previous day, and for the first time, students were concerned, asking questions. At that point, the only advice we were getting was don’t hug or shake hands.

Then the discussion about mask wearing began. I remember the first time I went to the supermarket and saw many people wearing masks. Mask wearing hadn’t been mandated yet. There was still uncertainty over whether they protected wearers from droplets emitted by others. No matter. The next time I shopped, I wore a mask. Better safe than sorry, I figured. Plus, I have that civic duty thing going on.

Now we know that masks prevent our germs from going out, as well as others’ from coming in. Schools were able to reopen and stay in session much longer than I and my colleagues predicted. Americans are being vaccinated as I write this. It’s amazing. I feel like I’m watching history happen.

My husband and I recently rewatched the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” based on the David McCullough biography. In a powerful scene, a doctor inoculates Abigail Adams and her four children against smallpox. It’s a horrifying procedure. He uses a lancet to cut their skin and then injects pus from a smallpox victim.

Next, viewers see the victim, covered with sores, lying in the back of a cart, clutching a cross. The doctor scrapes his skin for the next inoculation.

The Adams’ survived, although young Nabby developed a bad case and was scarred for the rest of her life. Luckily, though some of us may have fears and concerns about taking a brand new vaccine, we do not have to take the risk Abigail Adams took, or endure such a gruesome procedure.

Reflecting on the bravery of people who endured difficult times helps me find the courage I need just to go about my daily life these days. But I am also reassured by the thought that even without a firm grasp of science, doctors were able to slow the spread of smallpox in the 18th century. Now, not only do we have the wherewithal to produce a vaccine in nine months, we can predict when a 60-plus teacher in Kennebec County might get it.

As Winston Churchill said after the British defeated German forces at El Alamein: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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