Covid-19: More questions than answers

Maine struggles to resolve doubts as policies evolve

We don’t know a lot about Covid-19.

Our lack of knowledge results from the at least three facts: this is a new virus; scientific studies are difficult to understand; and people with political rather than technical credentials try to minimize the crisis or even find a miraculous cure through sheer will power.

We do know that the world faces a deadly virus that spreads easily, even from people who are unaware they have Covid-19. We also know we must rely on science to come up with solutions.

Some people, whose hopes and expectations are disappointed by scientific advice, simply reject it. Their views don’t make science less true, but the delays and distractions they cause may impose an added human cost.

In Maine, only last week did the CDC to provide a running count of the new cases added each day. While it had provided cumulative data, it had not shown if the famous “curve” was flattening. It turned out that it wasn’t.

It continues to provide gross numbers of cases by country and by age group, but does not show if the impact is disproportionate in any of them. As reported here last week, Cumberland County and people over 70 are suffering more from the virus than their percentage of the population would indicate

For obscure reasons, the Maine CDC refuses to provide data for each municipality. This makes Maine a national outlier. Maine counties are generally larger than those in many other states, so differences within a county could be great. Aroostook County, with only a handful of cases, is larger than the entire state of Connecticut, which publishes town data.

With better information, people would know more about any local need for protective action. Town governments could take steps appropriate to any enhanced needs.

Guidelines describe the conditions necessary to ease protective measures. But the Portland Press-Herald has revealed that opening in Maine has taken place without “key benchmarks,” set by the federal government and public health doctors, being met. Why? The economy over science? Politics over both?

Many people do not like government imposing restrictions on their daily life. They may fail to recognize that their actions in ignoring the threat may unknowingly increase the spread of the virus to vulnerable people.

The Maine CDC presents dry daily updates to a limited viewing audience, allowing journalists little follow-up questioning and leaving them to fill in the same blanks every day in their news reports. Depth and analysis are often lacking. Numbers can be numbing.

Do people need face coverings, which reduce the chance of passing the virus to others, provided they keep their social distance? The answer is unclear. Yet we know that, if everybody wore a face covering, the number of people infected by the virus would fall, probably to the point it would become manageable.

What about face masks, which differ from coverings by protecting users from the virus? When will they be available to more people and what efforts are being made to speed up the process?

Testing is touted as the solution. If everybody receives a test, we are told the virus should abate. Do tests really work? There are stories of false results. Will people submit to testing? The Washington Post reports than many won’t. With the need for retesting, how many will we need?

Maine is tripling the number of tests, thanks to Idexx, a Maine-based company. The news could easily have given people the impression that anybody could be tested. But it takes a doctor’s recommendation and probably having some signs of the illness.

A count of ventilators continues, and Maine seems to have more than enough. Why does keeping up the daily count matter, possibly providing a false sense of security? Doctors have been finding that ventilators may cause more problems than they are worth and many sufferers do not survive their prolonged use.

Both parties in the Legislature gave Gov. Mills extensive powers to deal with Covid-19, and she has acted to protect the state. At the same time, she has grappled with restoring economic activity for the summer in an economy that depends on tourism. Finding the balance raises issues that merit bipartisan debate.

So, why are former Gov. LePage and Republican leaders attacking her policies? Is LePage using Covid-19 to launch a new run for the Blaine House, as he has threatened?

Republican leaders often bring up Sen. Susan Collins in their criticism of Mills, though Collins has no state responsibilities. Has the GOP decided that opposing Mills’ handling of the virus helps Collins’ campaign?

Questions about the Covid crisis abound. People want answers. Waiting patiently for them may be the one of the toughest challenges posed by Covid-19.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.