Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters March 31 that the overall total of cases of COVID-19 in Maine stands at 303, which is an increase of 28 cases since March 30. Of those cases, 68 individuals have recovered and are out of isolation, and 5 people have died. Dr. Shah emphasized the importance of physical distancing, as he has each day since cases of the virus first appeared in Maine on March 12. “This is the surest way to disrupt the transmission of the virus,” he told reporters. Thirteen cases in Maine are connected to congregate settings, including the first at the Oxford Street Shelter in Portland. Of the 303 known cases statewide of individuals infected by the new coronavirus, 43 are health care workers.
Governor Janet Mills issued a Stay Healthy at Home mandate March 31 that takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 2. The mandate is enforceable, and violations are a class E crime subject to up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine. The Governor’s mandate is intended to protect public health and safety in the face of COVID-19. The order is purely for the good of the citizens of the state. While announcing the mandate, the Governor expressed her deep regrets, but said that the stakes are high, and it is a necessary step. Governor Mills’ order makes clear that the best thing most Mainers can do is stay home.
Exceptions to the stay at home mandate are for those in businesses or professions deemed essential. These include health care, first responders, groceries, trash collection, pharmacy and other medical facilities, biomedical, behavioral health and health care providers, child care, post offices and shipping outlets, insurance, banks, gas stations, laundromats, veterinary clinics and animal feed and supply stores, shipping stores, public transportation, and hotel and commercial lodging. Right at the top of the list of essential professions are those involved in health care, a large percentage of whom are immigrants.
According to a study published on June 3, 2019 in the journal Health Affairs by Dr. Leah Zallman, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, nationally “More than 3 million immigrants work in the U.S. health care system, accounting for about 1 in 4 people in that field … these range from doctors and nurses to home health care workers to employees at long-term care facilities… immigrants account for 18.2 percent of all health care workers.”
Lisa Rapaport, writing in Health News on December 4, 2018, reported that “About 29 percent of physicians (in the U.S.) were born in other countries.” In Maine in 2016, 7% of doctors were graduates of foreign medical schools, and 5% of nurses were foreign born, according to New American Economy. Of the 303 cases statewide of individuals infected by the new coronavirus, 43 are health care workers.
During his morning briefing Dr. Shah took time to try and bring into the light how Mainers all across the state are feeling. He said that an ‘unsettled feeling’ in response to the presence of the virus is real, is shared by Mainers all around the state, and indeed by millions around the world.
“Uncertainty may be the new norm for now, and uncertainty is unsettling. Those feelings are okay – we are all feeling it… but look around … we each have a role to play to help out this greater effort, and to introduce some calm and settling into our lives right now. We each can do our part…,” Dr. Shah said. And he added, “Call your mother, she’s waiting to hear from you.”
The Governor said she knows that after a long winter Mainers are eager to get out into the sun, go with friends to the beach, or enjoy a pick-up basketball game. But she said that now is not the time for those activities.
“I implore you – look to yourself, your family, your friends, your loved ones, your neighbors on the front lines, first responders and health care workers fighting the virus, those who can’t stay home; the children who live around the corner, the farmer who grows your food, the grocer and the pharmacist who sell you goods, the teachers who are missing their kids; the fisherman, the sailor, the truck driver, the janitor, the waitress at your favorite diner; these are the people you are protecting by staying home. This is who you are saving.”
The Governor’s stay at home order differs from the experience some immigrants in Maine had in their home countries, where the government monitored and controlled the movements of citizens for political or economic gain, rather than reasons of public safety.