The single most important asset a government has in dealing with a worldwide pandemic is trust. As a career military man, I know this is the most critical leadership characteristic.

Sadly, while Maine continues to struggle through the largest public health crisis in a century, the leaders of our government have not earned our trust because the things they tell us are not trustworthy.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah has told us that the primary weapon we have is masks. Then, last November he tweeted: “The 7-day average PCR positivity rate in #Maine is now 1.3%. That is roughly the level it was at ~July 8.”

July 8 is the day that Gov. Mills issued her executive order requiring many businesses to enforce her mask-wearing policy. Shah’s tweet confirmed that after four months of the restrictive policy, Maine was no better off against the virus than before it went into effect.

A key element to trust is consistency based on principle. Last Oct. 2, the CDC’s Shah told the Bangor Daily News that the Millinocket area avoided a larger outbreak after the now-infamous August wedding because “it also has a much lower population density than York County.”

However, just two weeks later, in an interview with Scientific American, Shah was asked “Do you think part of Maine’s success comes from its being relatively rural and remote?” He replied, “Not really. Other rural states such as Idaho, the Dakotas, West Virginia have much higher rates. That suggests that geography doesn’t have much explanatory power.”

Two weeks apart, Shah gave opposite statements about a significant aspect of the pandemic.

Lately, the false or inaccurate statements from the Mills administration have been a regular feature of the Maine CDC’s public briefings. On March 25, Shah told viewers that Maine had gone more than 30 days without a COVID-related death among long-term care residents. A check of the federal data, however, shows the state had at least three and as many as six such deaths in this period.

Recently, the administration finally released data on the number of deaths that have occurred among Maine nursing home residents. It revealed that number is nearly 60 percent of all of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. During the April 27 briefing, a reporter asked how much of the $1.25 billion in CARES Act relief funds Maine had spent to protect nursing homes. The answer to the reporter’s question: 2 percent. That is how much of the COVID relief funds the Mills administration invested in protecting nursing homes, where 60 percent of the deaths have occurred.

In response, however, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew told viewers that Maine “has done relatively well. Our nursing home death rate, our nursing home infection rate has been lower than most states.” This is simply not true.

According to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and updated that week, only New Jersey has a higher infection rate among nursing home residents than Maine, and 35 states have a lower death rate. Making this statement without having verified its content can leave Mainers wondering what other statements we should suspect.

Maine’s high death rate is explained by a March 7 Press Herald article that reported that nursing homes had still not received adequate vaccines. Not surprisingly, there are now 12 new outbreaks in Maine long-term care facilities from York to Aroostook counties.

This past week, we learned you are more likely to contract COVID-19 in Lewiston-Auburn than nearly anywhere else in the U.S. This seems impossible given that the U.S. CDC has reported Maine leads the nation in the percentage of our population that is fully vaccinated. However, when you read that the federal CDC’s source of information is the Maine CDC, it is logical to mistrust the data, given the recent misinformation on other COVID data points.

It is long past time for the Mills administration to re-examine its approach to the surging COVID crisis in Maine. This should start with a more honest, accurate approach to informing Mainers and an effort at restoring trust.


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