Social Distancing in the Kennebunks, and what it means for you

Everett Beals, Staff Writer

In December, it was the subject of light murmurings. In February, a growing concern. All the while, though, the spread of the novel coronavirus – officially COVID-19 – seemed something distant. In a mere matter of weeks, however, it’s brought daily life to a screeching halt around the globe. Even here in Maine, this virus is no longer something to merely write off. Life has changed, and it’s going to stay this way, for a while. So how did we get here, and what can we do to keep each other safe? 

This new strain of SARS, which causes the conditions of COVID-19, was first identified in December, in Wuhan, China. After spreading exponentially in China, the virus has taken root globally and done the same elsewhere. By March 13th, the World Health Organization officially identified the virus as a pandemic. As of March 18th, it had reached some 164 countries, infecting nearly 200,000 globally and killing almost 8,000, according to WHO reporting. 

In Maine, over 1,600 tests have come back negative, though there are 30 confirmed cases in the state. A majority of the infected individuals reside or are being treated in Cumberland County, with only one positive case so far in York County. As it happens, that patient worked right here, in Kennebunk, as the Portland Press Herald reported on March 16th. There is no doubt, then, that the threat is right on our doorstep. 

In Augusta, the state government has rapidly taken steps to limit social interaction. On the 15th, Governor Janet Mills declared a 30-day state of civil emergency, which included a recommendation that schools close for the same period. Today, Governor Mills announced that all restaurant dining rooms and non-essential public businesses would be closed through executive order. She did, though, encourage the use of take-out services, as beyond supporting our local businesses, it may be necessary to keep the industry afloat. The Governor added that gatherings of ten or more people would be restricted for the next two weeks.

In RSU 21, things have also been moving quickly. The first official community notice on the developing health situation was issued on February 26th; on March 12th, non-essential events and gatherings were suspended; only two days later, schools were closed for two weeks. Now, pursuant to Governor Mills’ order, interim Superintendent Dr. Phillip Potenziano has announced that RSU 21 schools will remain closed until April 26th, 2020. In a press release, the Superintendent clarified that existing distance learning plans will be extended, though a reevaluation of district’s progress will be prepared for March 25th. 

The goal of all this, per CDC guidance, is simple: avoid community spread. There is little doubt anymore that COVID-19 cannot be stopped – but it can be slowed. Health professionals, scientists, and governments worldwide are attempting to contain the virus before it can reach such a point of infectivity. When community spread occurs, individuals can become infected without ever knowing who they got it from. This is, perhaps, the most concerning part at this stage. The majority of people who are infected, especially the young, do not immediately present symptoms. Some never do. Conditions are similar to influenza, according to the Maine CDC: flu, coughing, and in some cases trouble breathing. Case history now illustrates that the virus poses the largest threat to the elderly, but case history has shown that people of all ages can be brought to critical condition. Moreover, not only the elderly at high-risk: those with medical complications and immunocompromisation are also very vulnerable. There are a number of students at our school alone who are seriously threatened by this virus, and it’s essential that we do our part to protect them and others. 

We all have a responsibility, regardless of the risk it may pose to us as individuals, to protect the community at large. Furthermore, to avoid community spread, global, national, state, and local authorities have advised that everyone practice social distancing. Here in Kennebunk, the first step has been to move schooling to the home. We’ve just finished the first week of distance learning, and so far, things appear to be going well. Additionally, KHS staff have recently been given approval to start using Google Hangouts for classroom communication – something which hopefully will bring some normalcy to this situation. 

In line with CDC recommendations and as reiterated in a March 17th memo by Superintendent Potenziano, social distancing outside of schoolwork means:

  • Avoid large gatherings at all times, especially of 10 or more people. 
  • This is not, unfortunately, coronacation. Do not gather with others until it is safe to do so, regardless of how healthy you may think yourself to be. 
  • Avoid contact with the sick, for your safety as well as theirs. 
  • Avoid contact with the elderly. 
  • Abstain from discretionary outings in public areas, like shopping trips or social events. 

There’s no guarantees in this, of course, so the best way to protect your own health is simply through good hygiene. Remember: 

  • Wash your hands regularly. Before meals, after using heavily-touched surfaces, and when returning to your home. 
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands after this, too, whenever possible.
  • Disinfect high-contact surfaces like doorknobs, phones, computers, and countertops. 

Finally, a few personal things:

  • Please, don’t hoard food or other essential goods. Homelessness and poverty haven’t gone away, and there are plenty of people just like you who just couldn’t get there in time. By hoarding, you are hurting your community and endangering those who have more immediate needs. That person living from paycheck-to-paycheck can’t wait for shelves to restock, and didn’t have the means to create a veritable nuclear bunker for food in the first place. With business closures, and the way the economy is going, people who were already disadvantaged are going to be at an even greater risk of going hungry. Please, try to use some empathy and common sense as we get through this together. 
  • Stay informed. Almost as bad as potential community spread, at this time, is the spread of misinformation. Trust our medical agencies, it’s their job to keep you safe. Here’s a few good resources, of varying scales, to follow along with:

  • Many things may be closed, but this doesn’t mean closing yourself off. This is a good time to go on walks, hikes, bike rides, and other outdoor activities which don’t involve large crowds. Indoors, read books, find new hobbies, and work on old ones. 

For seniors like myself, especially, this is a really frustrating and unnerving time. The steps that have been taken, though, are necessary if we want to get through this safely. The only way we can do it is together. From The Herd’s staff to you, please, stay healthy and safe. We will continue to update the school community as the situation progresses.