A friend recently wondered how there can be anybody left in Maine who could get sick with COVID-19.

And this was before the staggering 2,148 cases announced on Dec. 10. Before Gov. Janet Mills called out the National Guard to help with the crisis hospitals are facing due to the surges in COVID numbers.

I have taken up her comment as a kind of mantra when I see the latest numbers. An incredulous voice inside my head says: “We’re such a small state. How long can this go on?”

In my darker moments, I think, “Forever.”

I’d like to be more optimistic, but this is our second pandemic holiday season. Thanksgiving brought that Dec. 10 spike in cases; what will Christmas deliver?

I’ve seen bright spots on the horizon before, but right now I can’t even imagine closure. I can’t picture the day when I don’t have to wear a mask for my job as a school librarian.

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I’m angry, too. We didn’t have to be in this position. The virus is running rampant here because too many Mainers are still unvaccinated. The situation we’re in is mind-boggling.

The pandemic is a public health issue, obviously. But I also see its effects on education. And, of course, we are all experiencing our personal journeys.

When the vaccines first became available last year, there was great excitement. I was ecstatic when appointments were opened up to those over 60, like me. But my mood quickly fell when, before I could schedule a shot, educators and other frontline workers were added to the eligibility list, regardless of age.

I panicked, convinced I’d have to wait for weeks. People were proudly posting their appointments on social media, but I hadn’t managed to find an opening. Then my husband, Paul, got up very early in the morning and found me a slot at Walmart.

I am troubled by the thought that this country is so divided that we have some people who couldn’t wait to get their vaccines in March and others who refuse to do so in December, even when they (or a loved one) are on a ventilator. They harbor their crazy conspiracy theories while others are frantic to secure a booster appointment.

Mutual concern is a bedrock of democracy. Retirees are expected to support the school budget at town meeting even though their own children are long past their classroom days. Though self-determination is also a major tenet, we have always acknowledged that “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

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Today, too many don’t care about their neighbors’ well-being. All they think about is their “rights.” But no one’s rights are being violated. The vaccine is a choice — for the greater good.

I’ve given up trying to understand those who oppose vaccines and masks. From my perspective, masks enable schools to stay in session. I hate wearing a mask all day, but I know it works. There’s little (if any) transmission in schools when a mask policy is strictly followed. My district is participating in pool testing, which also allows more students to remain in school when they are close contacts of infected people.

It’s not perfect. There always are students who have to quarantine. That puts added stress on both them and their teachers, as their school work has to be done during their absence. Parents have to arrange for child care, although now they do have the option of having their elementary-aged offspring vaccinated.

Many students were dealing with mental health issues before the pandemic; case numbers have now skyrocketed. Educators are struggling as well. I find the uncertainty of life during the pandemic to be extremely stressful. Teaching and interacting with students while wearing a mask is challenging.

Most of all, I have a sense that nothing is the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s been that way for way too long now.

I remember the fear I felt in the spring of 2020, not knowing how bad things would get, how long it would last. I worried less about the actual illness than about being quarantined. Having my life totally disrupted for two weeks seemed unimaginable.

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I missed going to the movies and eating out. But once the weather broke, Paul and I went on many outdoor adventures. I even packed a bag with paper plates, utensils, a tablecloth and napkins to keep in the car for our picnic lunches.

I’ve adapted to this new lifestyle — which includes routinely wearing a mask indoors in public places — but I’m not happy about it.

Still, I was grateful that we were able to say goodbye to our chocolate lab, Aquinnah, in late February 2020. A few weeks later and we would not have been able to share his final moments at the veterinary hospital.

Although it turned out to be an ordeal, I say thanks that I was able to undergo surgery at the end of October. It was a necessary procedure, but I bet it would have been delayed for weeks if I was trying to schedule it now.

To wit: Maine Medical Center recently closed six operating rooms. This move frees up staff and made room for — you guessed it — more COVID patients.

My ability, and willingness, to find silver linings only goes so far. All I want for Christmas is my old life back.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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