Gov. Janet Mills’ State of the State address comes at an important and confusing time in the COVID-19 pandemic. Just look at where it’s being held: at the State House, in front of a full galley of legislators.

Last year, the governor’s annual address came by video. You have to go back to January 2020, just weeks before the virus took over our lives, to see this speech delivered in person. This year, it’ll be one of many signs that the state of the pandemic is changing.

And yet, COVID is still raging on, filling hospitals and killing more than 2,500 Americans a day. In Maine, hospitalizations and infections — as far as we can tell — remain higher than at almost any other time in the past two years, though they are trending in the right direction.

So how should Mainers approach the next several months as it relates to the virus? What should they expect from their chief executive as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, likely to be as filled with uncertainties as prior ones?

That’s what we need to hear from Gov. Mills Thursday night.

She delivers the State of the State just as our New England neighbors, who like Maine have chosen a robust response to COVID, are beginning to dial back public health measures designed to slow the spread.


By the end of the month, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts will end their respective statewide mandates for face-coverings at schools.

City councilors in Portland, too, this week voted to end the mandate on masks for indoor public places, though schools will not be affected.

Officials are counting on the infections from the omicron wave to continue to fall as quickly as they have in other places, opening the way for a less restrictive spring.

Gov. Mills has hit some of the same notes, last week calling for “a much-needed sense of stability and normalcy.”

It’s an understandable impulse. So many Mainers have done so much over the last two years to keep people safe. At some point, they need a break. They deserve a break.

But we’ve been here before, so sure that the pandemic was on its last legs. Since then, the virus has delivered two more waves, made more deadly and disruptive because we weren’t ready for them.


And what of the people who can’t be vaccinated because of age or legitimate medical concerns, or whose immunity is compromised? Understandably, they worry that prematurely rescinding the few COVID policies in place could put them and their loved ones at risk.

So we’d like to hear from the governor. Beyond the public’s desire to get back to normal, what other factors is she weighing? Will she at some point recommend that schools drop mask mandates? If so, what metrics will be used to make that decision?

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, did not offer much detail on school masking on Wednesday, only to say the state was talking with superintendents around the state. Mills should give the public a better idea of where those conversations are going.

Mills should also show in broad terms what the state will do over the next few months to prepare for subsequent COVID waves. What is the strategy for getting more Mainers vaccinated, including booster shots? How will she avoid the test shortages that have hindered our response in past waves?

And if another wave comes, how should we expect the state to respond? How severe would it have to be to bring restrictions back? If school mask mandates are rescinded locally, at what point should they be put back in place?

By almost any metric, Maine has handled the pandemic as well as any state. Gov. Mills on Thursday will no doubt celebrate that success and her administration’s role in it. She deserves that.

But at this confusing, uncertain time in the life of COVID-19, she also needs to lay out a path forward for Maine that residents can rely on.


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