Maine Policy Institute today released a new report that sheds light on the harmful effects of Governor Janet Mills’ economic and societal shutdown of Maine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, “COVID Catastrophe: Consequences of Societal Shutdowns” examines the history of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on Maine and which data policymakers used to lock down society and centrally plan our economy.
The report’s author, policy analyst Nick Murray, draws on data compiled by state, national and global health agencies to determine:
·Data available in the early days of the pandemic did not support a statewide lockdown of Maine: At the time the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Maine, there was not enough evidence to show that full-scale lockdowns would be the most effective strategy. In fact, the available evidence suggested the vast majority of people would not suffer severe illness from the virus. This should have led state leaders to focus our limited resources on protecting the most vulnerable in society, however Gov. Mills opted to shut down the entire state.
·The rationale for locking down Maine’s economy quickly changed from “flattening the curve” to waiting for a vaccine: When Gov. Mills first ordered “non-essential” business and travel to cease and the delay of elective medical procedures, the stated rationale was to “flatten the curve” — a strategy to prevent the overall healthcare system and Maine hospitals from becoming overburdened. However, in May, the administration’s rationale changed to “keeping case counts low” until “there is a vaccine or treatment.”
·The state of the virus in Maine no longer warrants a civil state of emergency: The virus is under control in Maine.Active cases continue to hover around 400, the lowest numbers since early May. The rolling 7-day average of positive coronavirus tests has dropped below 1% while hospitalizations have declined to about a dozen. Maine’s “R-naught”, the rate at which each infection leads to other successive infections, is also below one. This means that fewer than one person will become infected for every currently infected person. At no time has Maine’s hospital or health care capacity been tested by the virus, meaning it is time to end the emergency.
·Unemployment boomed and the state’s labor force participation plummeted during Gov. Mills’ lockdown: Maine’s overall unemployment rate during the pandemic peaked in April at 10.4% before dropping to 9.4% and 6.6% in the months of May and June, respectively. While steadily improving, the share of unemployed Mainers today is still double that of this time last year. Similarly, Maine’s labor force participation rate dropped from 62.4% in March to a low of 59.1% in April and rebounded modestly to 59.9% in June.
Businesses continue to permanently close their doors due to the state’s misguided response: Since Gov. Mills ordered the state to close, Maine Policy has used news reports, social media posts and website updates to account for more than 75 permanent business closures that represent hundreds of jobs lost statewide. The largest share of these losses come in the food service industry. Many other businesses have cancelled their 2020 seasons or sold their storefronts to move to online-only retail formats. In addition, 25 prominent state fairs and festivals, on which many towns and local businesses rely for tourism-related revenue, have been cancelled this year.
·Delaying elective medical procedures will result in worse health outcomes and more expensive care: Research shows that delays in surgery result in higher rates of surgical site infections, which lead to increased costs of medical procedures. The National Institute of Health says surgical delays are likely to manifest in increased costs to the healthcare system through the treatment of more advanced diseases, which require more intense and costly medical treatment.
·Other legitimate public health crises have been minimized by the pandemic: Maine lost 127 people to drug overdose deaths from January to March 2020, 23% more than in the last quarter of 2019. It is estimated that drug overdose deaths in Maine over the first half of 2020 will reach almost 260. Nationally, data show a 13% increase in overdose deaths in the first quarter of this year, yet Maine has exceeded that trend.
·Maine did not pay adequate attention to nursing homes in the early days of the pandemic: By June 12—three months into the state of emergency—Maine CDC had sent inspectors to less than one-third of the state’s nursing homes. At this time, nursing home residents accounted for more than half of the total COVID-19 deaths in Maine. Maine was inspecting nursing homes at a rate slower than all but nine other states. Although slightly half of all confirmed cases in Maine belong to Mainers aged 70 and older, this population accounts for nearly 85% of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities. Maine CDC denied an initial request by Maine Policy Institute for more detailed information on nursing homes to perform additional analyses.
·The Mills administration was opaque in its decision making: Maine did not release daily tallies of negative testing results until the end of May, leaving out over two months of data to calculate a more granular-level trend line. Town-level data on COVID-19 infections were not released until June. Maine was the last state to report both of these key metrics to the public. The Mills administration also broke the state’s open meeting laws by conducting closed-door briefings with selected legislators at the start of the pandemic.
“Governor Mills and the administration were sorely mistaken to enact broad mandates with limited information on the new virus, trashing Mainers’ rights and destroying the hard-earned livelihoods of many,” Murray said. “Instead of focusing their response on Maine’s truly vulnerable, the governor chose to shut down ‘nonessential’ businesses across the state, even in the vast swaths of rural Maine which have suffered much deeper economic and public health consequences than the virus could have inflicted.”
“It is clear that Maine is no longer in a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The governor’s heavy-handed unilateral policy decisions have plunged the state into an economic malaise from which it will likely take years to fully recover,” CEO Matthew Gagnon said.
The report also calls on lawmakers to make permanent some of the temporary changes Gov. Mills ordered under the state of emergency, including relaxing regulations on medical licensing, telehealth services, and the certificate of need process. These reforms would increase access to healthcare and make services more affordable for Mainers.
Click here to read the full analysis.