Sunday, March 15, 2020
We will likely feel the effects of the new coronavirus for the next twelve to eighteen months in Brunswick, in Maine, and around the world. As a candidate for state office, I may be among those who will be making decisions next year on your behalf that determine how well Maine manages and recovers from this pandemic. I believe that our local and state leaders are making difficult but necessary decisions now to protect our physical well-being, and that we will soon need to make equally difficult decisions to protect our economic well-being.
My goals with this statement are to share factual information to help Mainers understand the decisions that community leaders and governmental officials are making now, to thank leaders, especially Bowdoin College and the Brunswick School Department, for quickly taking effective action early that may save lives, and to encourage support for efficient legislative action to help Maine families and businesses through the difficult months ahead.
We have good evidence, including comments on Friday, March 13, during the declaration of a national emergency, that we face two or three months of intensive effort to reduce the transmission rate of the coronavirus that causes COVID 19, followed by fifteen months of continued diligence to ensure that our healthcare system is not overwhelmed.
We must take community action against the coronavirus until we have community immunity to it. The coronavirus is very contagious: if left unchecked, on average one infected person will pass it on to more than one new person. Unless we act now, the number of cases will grow extremely quickly. Most cases are mild, but some require hospitalization. If we fail to act, our healthcare system could be overwhelmed by cases of pneumonia and respiratory failures. We probably do not have the capacity to treat all who will need hospitalization if the virus spreads unchecked.
Experience in other countries shows that “social distancing” can limit the virus to below one new infection per infected person. The virus spreads person to person through the air and via surface-to-hand-to-face contact. Physically spreading people apart while the coronavirus is in our communities is an effective way to keep us all safer.
Until an effective vaccine is developed, the virus will continue to threaten everyone who has not yet contracted it. But we can limit the number of cases of COVID 19 that our healthcare system must manage each week, reduce the mortality rate of infections by an order of magnitude, and keep our healthcare system functioning so it can continue to provide services for wellness visits, childbirth, flu, accidents, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other needs.
We are already taking aggressive measures to limit the spread of the virus here in Brunswick. Bowdoin College has closed its campus to students and transitioned to remote learning for the rest of the semester. Brunswick’s public schools are closed for at least the next two weeks. Officials may be soon announcing additional measures, which may include restricting the operation of businesses such as restaurants where many people gather.
These necessary social distancing measures will have serious economic consequences. I am with those who are calling for efficient and effective government action to mitigate the financial hardship on our families and small businesses. I am gathering and sharing coronavirus statements from all legislative candidates and other elected officials. I will be analyzing all of the policy options proposed, by candidates from all parties, to inform my own position and to find ways to work with others on effective legislation in the next session of our state legislature, whether or not I am fortunate enough to be among those elected.
Of all the possible policy responses proposed so far, providing direct cash payments to each resident during this emergency seems to me to be the best and most efficient way to keep money flowing through our economy. Expanding insurance coverage and unemployment benefits will be extremely beneficial, but not sufficient. While tax relief does stimulate our economy in normal times, this situation calls for a different approach. The key problem that families, small businesses, and community organizations will face is an abrupt disruption in their cash flow that may persist for months.
Without cash flow, many of our businesses and organizations cannot pay their employees, leading to the loss of wages. Chambers of commerce are already telling their members to conserve cash and prepare for recession. We can make efficient use of our government to ensure that people have money to buy food, medicine and other necessities while social distancing measures are in effect. I agree with those who feel that families and small businesses are in the best position to know what they need; we can best help them by ensuring they remain financially solvent while the pandemic response is preventing them from earning a paycheck.
Our federal government has the resources and authority (including the ability to issue debt) to provide funding, so I call on our Congress to act. But Maine can help, too. Working together, our Governor and our state legislature can use our Budget Stabilization Fund (“Rainy Day Fund”) and we can immediately begin considering what other funding sources we can reallocate to provide relief for the economic stress our social distancing measures will place on our people.
If we fail to keep money flowing through our economy during this emergency, many families and small businesses will face bankruptcy. Too many families and small businesses do not have sufficient savings to withstand the economic disruption that several months of social distancing will cause. We know that our community is generous; many people will share resources to help their neighbors. But private acts of charity will not be enough to sustain our economy for the duration of this pandemic.
Our government is responding responsibly by taking immediate action to protect our lives. Our next challenge is finding the political will and wisdom to protect our economic well-being. With the right response at the right time, we can overcome this pandemic and preserve healthy communities and a healthy economy.
We are all in this together.