Civil Disaster Declaration in Rockland

As I’ve done with the last two pieces I’ve penned about CORVID-19 and, more specifically, our response to it here in Maine and in my city of Rockland, I will reiterate at the top that I am not a medical health expert. I’m a journalist who usually covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. As a science writer, however, I deal with data every day, and data is the lens through which I’m looking at the coronavirus pandemic. I’m using this space to share some of my thoughts based on what I understand are the best available data. If you have other data, please share them with me.

Yesterday I wrote about my continued concern about local businesses in Rockland that were acting in a manner inconsistent with the best available data. I was concerned especially about bars actively advertising St. Patricks Day events, ongoing pool tournaments, trivia nights and the like. When the Rockland City Council met for a special COVID-19 planning meeting yesterday, I was expecting a disaster declaration or some other directive measures to restrict these businesses’ (and others’) activities that, based on the best available data, were putting our community at greater risk. I was disappointed that the Council did not make a disaster declaration at the time of the meeting, but I’m thankful that the town manager did so yesterday afternoon.

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.05.48 AM

While there are those who are criticizing this action by the City, the data suggest this was the right call. We are dealing with a virus that can be transmitted by people without symptoms. We are dealing with a virus where every non-isolated infected person has the potential to infect two or three other people who in turn may infect four or six more people (a transmission rate of two-three). We are dealing with a virus that can survive on inanimate objects for up to nine days. We are dealing with a virus for which we have a severe lack of testing and no vaccine.

It seems too many people seem to think there is something different about Maine, which justifies us not taking a similar approach to other places that are further along than we are with the spread of the virus. I don’t know what makes us think we are different, especially when the data available on the virus here in Maine appear to follow such a similar pattern to the data from other affected areas.

Each new measure we have taken as a State and now as a City mirrors a measure taken by a place a few days or weeks ahead of us in terms of the spread of the virus. At some point, we need to get ahead of this and realize that taking extreme measures now will mean we won’t have to continually look back and wish we had acted sooner. There is little doubt in my mind that more severe mitigation actions are on the horizon to limit the spread of the virus, but the data show us clearly that every day we fail to act matters. We need to act now.

Act how?

As I write this, there are non-essential businesses that continue to operate in the city of Rockland staying true to the letter of the declaration but not to the data. This needs to stop.

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Unless these business have a serious plan in place to mitigate the risk to the people who choose to shop there and then go on to interact with others in our community, then their actions are an unacceptable risk to us all. What does mitigation look like beyond the 10-individual city mandate? For starters, since we know the virus can survive on inantimate objects for up to nine days, surface disinfection multiple times per day with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or 62–71% ethanol significantly with a one minute exposure time should be a basic requirement.

But in reality, what we need to do is go a step further and close all non-essential businesses now. As Winston Churchill said:

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.

I’ll leave you with a good data visualization from Gary Warshaw that many of you have probably already seen and which helps to show why social distancing is so important right now. Be the seventy-five percent.

garywarshaw infographic

#datamatter #bethe75percent

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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