In times of crisis, we must take care of each other

The 2019 novel coronavirus has upended the lives of thousands of Mainers and millions of Americans. Between the rapid spread of the virus and the equally rapid response, it’s been a whirlwind, with many folks finding themselves out of work, their children out of school or having to change their entire business model overnight. There’s no sugar-coating it — these are trying times.  

The State House may be closed, but my staff, my colleagues and I are all working hard remotely to make sure Maine people are taken care of during this public health crisis.  

  At this point, there have been two cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Aroostook County. It’s why we all need to do our part to protect our loved ones. Keep your family healthy: wash your hands for 20 seconds and practice social distancing, a term that has become a part of our everyday vocabulary. If you aren’t feeling well and are exhibiting symptoms similar to COVID-19, call your doctor. They will determine whether you should be tested. Please don’t just go to the hospital or doctor’s office. It poses a risk to the health and safety of your physician, their staff and the greater community. Visit cdc.gov/covid19 or 211Maine.org for more details.

  As the number of COVID-19 cases has grown, state and local officials have responded quickly to protect Maine people. In the Legislature, Speaker Gideon and I made the difficult decision to expedite all emergency and essential measures before suspending our work in the State House until the public health crisis is over. 

Before we adjourned, Maine lawmakers passed a strong, bipartisan supplemental budget that takes care of Maine people during this public health crisis. We also passed comprehensive legislation that expanded unemployment benefits for affected workers, made sure kids can still access school meals and protected Mainers from getting their utilities shut off.

  Since then, the situation has quickly escalated. Gov. Janet T. Mills prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people, closed dine-in service at bars and restaurants and ordered the closure of public-facing nonessential businesses. It was the right move, but people are struggling.

  Now that our restaurants are no longer offering dine-in services, they are relying on delivery and takeout orders to keep their business afloat. They need our help during these tough times. If you can, please consider ordering takeout or delivery from your favorite restaurant.

  If you have lost your job or income due to COVID-19, you are likely eligible for unemployment. You can apply here: reemployme.maine.gov. You shouldn’t have to go through this alone. 

  Gov. Mills has also taken steps to provide funding for nursing homes, promote telehealth and require insurance companies to cover testing and treatment. Last week, President Trump signed legislation to provide paid family medical leave, emergency sick time and cover the cost of all COVID-19 testing. Right now there is a bill moving through Congress to expand unemployment to cover self-employed individuals and provide grants to small businesses. I’ve written a letter to our federal delegation to demand help for small businesses — they deserve it. 

I don’t know what the next few weeks and months have in store for us. It’s highly likely that things will have changed by the time this column is published, with both the pandemic and the response evolving at a rapid pace. We may have to hunker down for a while. And I know that is scary for folks. 

  But what I also know is that we can come out of this pandemic stronger than ever if we look out for our neighbors, take care of each other and do our part to slow the spread of this disease and protect our frontline workers. The good news is that’s what Mainers do best.

  Thank you to all the essential workers putting in the hours to keep our friends, family and neighbors safe. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, concerns or fears. We are here to help at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov, troyjackson.org/covid19 or by calling 207-287-1500.

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