Mills stays mum on corona deaths

By Randall Poulton | Jun 11, 2020

On Tuesday, June 2, the CDC reported five Mainers died of COVID 19. Holy smokes, that seems like a lot! What is going on? A new outbreak? Who were these folks? Where did they live? Did they wear masks and observe social distancing? Did any of them work at Hannaford or Walmart or Lowe's or Home Depot? Any chance I was exposed to one of them? How many of them were frontline medical workers? How many of them had been eating in restaurants? How can I live to be 102?

These all seem like reasonable questions to me (except maybe the last one!). But Mills says “mum’s the answer.” I find this lack of information not just frustrating, but completely infuriating. Making good personal decisions requires good information. Mills has precisely that info and she won’t share it.

Here is what the CDC told us about the June 2nd Five: Two were females in their 70s from Cumberland County; one was a male in his 70s from Cumberland County; the fourth was a male in his 60s from Penobscot County and number five was a female in her 100s from Cumberland County. There were no answers to my list of questions.

A few days later, from other sources, we learned a bit more. The man from Penobscot county was Tom Coon. He was 63 years old and lived in Medway. Coon’s job involved close contact with the public and he suffered from diabetes. If Mills knows who he got the virus from, she is mum on that, too. And, now we know that victim number five was Francis Banks, a 102-year-old woman who, ironically, survived the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Banks lived at the Cape Memory Care facility in Cape Elizabeth. (These details about Mr. Coon and Ms. Banks were reported in local newspapers and attributed to Coon’s girlfriend and Banks’ daughter.)

Based on all we know, my guess is none of the June 2nd Five were employees at big box stores or medical workers or eating in restaurants or participating in any of the activities deemed high risk by the Mills administration. But why do I need to guess? Why is Mills “mum” on this critical information? Is she hiding something? More on that in a minute.

One of the riskiest activities people engage in every day is travel. When people die in car crashes, we get the victims’ names, ages, the “accident” location, weather conditions, road conditions, who was (or wasn’t) wearing seat belts, and any special circumstances that contributed to the person’s death. Because of this detailed reporting we all know seat belts save lives, don’t drink and drive and watch out for black ice!

And it’s not just car crashes: For comparison, look at the detail that was reported in the Bangor Daily News when a snowmobiler died last February: Just before noon, a Massachusetts man was killed south of Baxter State Park. Wardens say Alan Paquette was riding last in a group of three snowmobiles when he failed to negotiate a turn and hit some trees. Officials think speed and his inexperience with the trail contributed to the crash. Paquette was wearing a helmet.

Because the Mills administration tells us so little about Maine’s COVID-19 victims, it makes it far more difficult for me to decide what activities are fairly safe vs. which ones might put me at greater risk. But for snowmobilers, the takeaway is clear: If you are inexperienced and don’t know the trail — slow down!

Instead of good information, what we do get from the Mills administration is orders: Stay home. Or, if you must leave your house, wear a mask (at least that is the directive this week; not long ago we were told masks do not help). Am I to infer that the June 2nd Five ignored the stay-at-home order and failed to wear masks?

Lastly, there is a lack of consistency. For over two months, big box stores remained open (and crowded) but churches were shut down. Every fair, festival and concert has been canceled, including the iconic Common Ground Country Fair; the granddaddy of them all, the Fryberg Fair; and locally the Belfast Harbor Fest. But it is OK for hundreds of people to gather in protest, linking arms, even hugging! And by “OK,” I mean officially approved via municipal permit (albeit not in every case).

Here is what I think Mills is hiding: Most of the people in Maine whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 were old and frail and living in congregate care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living, group homes, memory care facilities). Waldo County is an excellent example.

According to the CDC, there have been 14 COVID-19 deaths in Waldo County. My understanding is 13 of those deaths were at Tall Pines. The 14th death attributed to COVID-19 was Eddie Moore. Moore died of a heart attack after fighting a house fire in Jackson; his wife, a certified nursing assistant at Tall Pines, was one of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19 and had quarantined, along with her husband.

Waldo County is not an outlier. The CDC reports Kennebec Country has had nine deaths. My understanding is seven of those were at the Augusta Rehab facility.

When people die it is sad. When people you love die, it can be heartbreaking. Or not; sometimes it is a blessing. Such was the case with my frail father. He was suffering from dementia, incontinence and nearly bedridden. At 88, his body was just plain worn out. His death certificate says he died of prostate cancer. It should have said “old age.” (Today, it would probably say COVID-19.)

One more thing: Mills' latest idea to save Maine’s tourist industry (and 16% of Maine’s jobs) is to let people come here for a visit without serving a 14-day quarantine, but only if they first test negative for COVID-19. How very nice. In three months, Maine has managed to test about 65,000 people. At the current rate, it will take over a year to test one million people. Last year, 37 million tourists visited Maine. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic comes to mind.

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

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