Coronavirus

Gov. Mills stokes fear while doubling down on economic restrictions

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Last Friday, Lindsey Crete, spokesperson for Governor Janet Mills, hinted to the Maine media that more economic restrictions would be coming given the higher daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases being recorded across the state. By Sunday, this notion was fulfilled through the governor’s latest batch of executive orders to reinstate numerous restrictions on travel and social interaction. This accompanies an eighth extension of the state of civil emergency first declared by the governor in March.

Mandatory 14-day quarantines for those who travel to Maine from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are back in effect. The only states exempt from the quarantine requirement are now Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

These rules, which are unlikely to deter many people from altering their planned interstate travel during the holidays, will only serve to make otherwise peaceful, courteous people into lawbreakers. By casting away any reasonable interpretation of human nature, Governor Mills has opted to shame her fellow Mainers for choosing to spend time with family during the holiday season.

Bars and tasting rooms, which were previously scheduled to open for indoor seated service on Monday, November 2nd, will be closed “until further notice.” Bars have borne the brunt of the stigma from the beginning of Mills’ paltry economic “reopening” plan, whereas restaurants have been trusted to provide a reasonably safe environment (at least safe enough that government “experts” allow them to operate). Bars and restaurants are distinct (based on the administration’s logic) because of their differing licenses, not because of their ability to observe CDC recommendations.

In addition, all gatherings are now limited to 50 people no matter the situation, indoor or outdoor. Retail establishments will still have to abide by spacing rules to allow for only 5 people per 1,000 square feet of indoor space, or 200 square feet (about the area of a one-car garage) per person.

Big box stores remain much better equipped to survive amidst Mills’ restrictions than the hundreds of small, family-owned shops across the state. For eight months, Governor Mills has prioritized the well-being of Walmart over Main Street.  

“If we do not control this outbreak, we may never get this evil genie back in the bottle,” Governor Mills said in a statement Sunday afternoon. She described COVID-19 as “a deadly virus for which there is no treatment and no cure, a virus which is attacking babies, teenagers, Millennials and seniors alike in every region of Maine and all across the country.”

It has been widely understood that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, does not affect young people in the same way it does those who are older or have an existing condition that might compromise their immune system. We have known this since the beginning of the pandemic, yet Gov. Mills continues to drum up panic by insinuating equal risk among the population. This is demonstrably false.

National CDC data compares hospitalization rates among those infected with COVID-19 across different age groups. Using 18 to 29-year-olds (millennials) as the comparison group, the CDC finds that 75 to 84-year-olds have eight times the risk of hospitalization as a millennial. People over 85 carry a risk 13 times higher. To demonstrate the wide difference in severity rates by age group, children aged 5 to 17 carry a risk of hospitalization nine times lower than millennials.

As far as this virus “attacking babies,” Mills simply ignores the data and science around the virus, which shows us that fewer than 400 children aged 0 to 4 were hospitalized with COVID-19, making up 0.6% of hospitalizations with the virus across the country. Teenagers? They make up barely 2% of overall COVID-19 hospitalizations . Of course, it is possible for any person of any age to have a severe case of this virus, but does 1-2% really warrant this kind of shameless fear baiting and arbitrary policymaking?

It is clear that influenza affects children much more severely than does COVID-19, yet schools have never been cajoled and coerced to close during flu season. It is incumbent upon state officials and elected “leaders” to shoot straight with the public on these issues, no matter what the data says, even if the data causes some people to question the efficacy or appropriateness of state action.

In times of public health crisis, people need to know that they will get the full truth from the powers-that-be. In their attempts to shock Mainers out of what they deem to be virus “complacency” , Gov. Mills, Dr. Shah, Commissioner Lambrew, and the administration has highlighted the worst stories among Maine people, obfuscating evidence that independent scientists have verified time and again.

But, then again, why wouldn’t they play to Mainers’ fears? If we are fearful, we will be more obedient. This enables the administration to consolidate more and more power. Who needs checks and balances in government, anyway? 

Governor Mills has forced businesses to close, banned “elective” medical procedures (leading to baffling layoffs of healthcare workers amid a pandemic) and unnecessarily burdened the state’s unprepared unemployment system. Rather than establishing clear guidelines, the governor has created this unworkable patchwork of arbitrary mandates. She has opted for a command-and-control approach, one that relies on an adherence to the narrative that, without her restrictions, the virus would run rampant across the state. 

Even a cursory glance at the differing policies around the world would elucidate the obvious fact that government policy plays little to no role at all in limiting the spread of a new pathogen.

What it can do, however, is irrevocably derail the trajectory of millions of peaceful human lives. For that, there is no adequate liability and no adequate justification.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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