By State Senator Lisa Keim
It has been nearly two months now since the state legislature passed a series of bills into law in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As we left Augusta that day much of our state was rapidly descending into isolation as a means of slowing the spread of the virus. At the same time, exerting the powers inherent in her Declaration of Civil Emergency, Governor Mills began shutting down certain segments of our state in an effort to ward off further negative effects of the coronavirus.
The critical goal of these shutdowns was to flatten the curve to avoid overwhelming our health system. In the early stages of the pandemic, we reacted to a great unknown by, figuratively speaking, jumping into a foxhole for protection. That’s sensible. However, the smoke has cleared, and we now have an improved vision of the ‘enemy’ though we are still many months, to years, from concrete scientific study-based data on the Covid-19 virus.
Every day we are given Coronavirus updates, with passing mention of these ‘difficult’ times. Our community health is not encapsulated by Coronavirus statistics- we are so much more.
My grave concern is that we are not properly evaluating the substantial, negative impact on public heath that our response has created. There is heightened anxiety created by isolation and the loss of employment and income that inevitably lead to spikes in stress-related problems, such as heart attacks, substance abuse, depression, and even suicide. There has also been a significant decrease in reporting of child abuse and neglect, and Protection from Abuse orders have dropped in half.
We should not value lives lost to the virus above those similarly impacted by mental health related illnesses and safety concerns. Valuing connectedness, community, and people’s livelihoods does not equate to carelessness about life. We are made to be productive, enriching lives through our labor. Every job is life-sustaining.
Risk is inherent in life. Living in a government-controlled, risk-free environment is not an American value, and it is certainly not the life to which most Maine people aspire. Controlling major risks in virus hot spots is sensible, but rural Maine is not among those and our response should reflect this reality.
The State of Maine has been rated as one of the most economically vulnerable to the pandemic. I get phone calls every day from people, our neighbors, sharing their concern that they are on the brink of losing everything. This is not about money. It is about life, and a functioning economy supports that.
This virus will be with us into the foreseeable future, and we must learn, not only to hide, but to live with its presence. And that requires our involvement. That is why I believe it is time to reconvene the Maine Legislature. The just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed, and our commonsense view of consent is that it requires actual representation!
Currently, the Maine people have no active representation through their elected legislators, though similar elected bodies all over the country are working on COVID-19 responses. Congress also has remained active, not sitting idly at home allowing the President and his administration free reign.
The voices of Maine people must be heard and included in consultation and conversation because the only real ability to stop the spread of the virus rests with the people.
We can only combat this virus if the governed do consent. As this crisis drags on, the people are increasingly restless and resentful of their loss of liberty and community. Maine people have good ideas, and they can be trusted to govern themselves. If the people are included, they will naturally take on increased personal responsibility.
No amount of law enforcement can ensure enough compliance to stop the spread of a virus if the majority of people do not agree and consent. We must pull together.
Transparency is key to securing the support of the people, and it is critical that our state government exhibit greater openness. There should be no mystery around how decisions are being made, what data is given greatest weight, and whose voices are given greater authority in the process.
The current administration cannot continue autocratically, adjustments are needed. As Milton Friedman said, “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.”
We are living in an unexpected time. I have heard from so many of you with a range of concerns, from increasing the pandemic response to needing help with unemployment. I respond to any and all calls and emails! Do reach out, even if you simply need someone to hear your complaints. These are difficult times and it is my honor to walk through this with you.
Take good care of yourselves and your community!
Lisa Keim represents District 18 in the Maine State Senate.