As of July 1, Maine has entered its third stage of the COVID-19 recovery process, marked by the reopening of businesses, including performance venues, spas and movie theaters. And while this is a godsend for many of our state’s local businesses, we are also preparing for a future that will certainly pose a number of challenges.
Small businesses employ more than 56 percent of our state’s workforce, one of the highest percentages in the nation. And during the pandemic, they have been hit hard—especially our restaurant, hospitality, healthcare, and retail businesses. As a small business owner myself, I know that we operate on tight budgets with little room for error.
However, Maine’s reopening is now offering us a chance to get back on our feet. Yet, we all understand that we are not out of the woods, and we will need the continued help of our elected leaders to pass legislation—to both protect small businesses from going out of business and to prepare us for the future of COVID-19.
Over the first half of 2020, Maine underwent many changes in response to COVID-19. As our state’s businesses closed or transitioned to predominantly digital services, some businesses and employees were unfortunately forced to wait for the moment it was safe to return to work. However, most businesses, resilient as ever, adapted quickly to meet the demands of Maine’s residents and keep their doors open.
We all heard the stories of restaurants reshuffling to include curbside and delivery options and then outdoor dining to keep employees on the payroll and our communities fed. Manufacturers, deemed essential businesses, also shifted their operations, many of which began producing personal protective gear and critical medical equipment when demand spiked to unprecedented levels. In fact, a company right here in Herman, Maine known as Ntension pivoted its production lines to make masks for frontline medical workers.
While our response has been impressive, work remains to be done. In Sagadahoc County, where I live, community transmission remains a concern. And small businesses, the backbone of our communities, must be top-of-mind as we work to find a safe way for our state’s businesses to reopen while keeping employees safe. That will require cooperation across both the public and private sectors. And just as we have seen over the last several months, private and small businesses are ready to act and adapt.
We’re building a state with the infrastructure needed for a swift recovery from COVID-19 – the health care supply chain is a great example. Over the course of the crisis, Maine’s pharmaceutical distributors, the shipping and warehousing experts behind our nation’s supply chain, have worked tirelessly to ensure critical medical products reach every corner of our state, from metro Portland to small towns up in The County, no matter the circumstances.
These businesses worked hand in hand with our state healthcare providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers to supply the medications both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients needed to keep healthy. Hopefully soon, their infrastructure will be a powerful tool for vaccine distribution.
Looking toward the coming year, a vaccine is hopefully approaching, and it is the surest way to get our economy and state back to normal. Right now, a number of challenges stand in the way of a seamless response, and lawmakers must fix those problems today rather than wait until it is too late.
Ultimately, it is our government’s duty to support our frontline medical workers with responsive public policy focused on ensuring each aspect of our medical system is equipped with the tools they need to produce, deliver, and administer urgent care today and a vaccine when it arrives. That won’t happen by accident.
Only when we bring all of our leaders to the table can we ensure Mainers will be ready to lead the fight against COVID-19 when a vaccine comes. But I know that, with informed planning, we will be back on our feet in no time.