A pair of pedestrians wear masks in Portland on Friday while walking by a sign urging them to do so. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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We can’t be trusted – not even when it comes to acting in our own self-interest and well-being.

Maine’s cases of coronavirus are growing quickly, given a jump start by large gatherings and businesses and organizations, including churches, thumbing their noses at safety precautions, and now leaking from family to family through smaller gatherings.

Cases are growing at schools and universities. Restaurants are being forced to close after exposure incidents. Families are moving in and out of quarantine and back again.

I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We know that smoking is bad for us. We continue to smoke. We know the danger of being sedentary, yet we sit. We know what fast food can do to our waistline and our health outcomes, yet we wait in that drive-thru. We drink too much, drive too fast, don’t wear a helmet.

Of course, we can’t stay focused on keeping COVID-19 at bay.

We have been blessed with amazing mid-November weather for the last few days, even as the curse of the 4:20 p.m. sunset cuts those days short.

But the colder weather is surely coming and with it we’ll be more tempted to stay inside. Will we go alone or will we bring our friends inside with us?

This is no holier than thou moment. I’m as guilty as the next person, maybe more than some.

My son was recently quarantined after coming into close contact with someone at school who tested positive for COVID-19. He only goes to school two days a week for three hours a day. Luckily, his test came back negative.

My wife and I are working mostly at home, but the in-person meetings are slowly growing more frequent.

On Saturday, when the presidential race was called for President-elect Joe Biden, I met a handful of neighbors outside for a socially distanced and masked-but-when-drinking toast.

We make more trips than we should to the hardware store; we let the kids (when they’re not quarantined) see friends. Our social circle has grown from zero to basically two.

And each tiny step along the way, we are adding to the risk.

Multiply by 1.3 million people and it’s not hard to figure out why Maine is backsliding with the exponential spread of COVID-19. Hospitalizations are following. More deaths will be next.

And remember: Today’s numbers tell us what happened two weeks ago. The worst is still ahead of us.

Biden got off to a strong start when his first official action as incoming president was to name a coronavirus task force filled with public health experts, doctors and scientists.

But the simple fact is that we cannot wait another two months for the new president to take office before taking action.

As the fever of the election ebbs, it’s my hope that our collective response to the coronavirus can escape the continuing polarization of our country (perhaps a hope too far).

Our country is desperate for a clear, national approach to COVID-19 that works collaboratively with local and state authorities to adopt policies that are based in science – not some hokum that the virus will suddenly just disappear.

We need Congress to act on a significant relief package to protect our economy.

And we need a clear and consistent message from leaders about what the right course of action is for our communities and for us as individuals.

For the most part, I believe that people want to do the right thing and they want to protect their friends, family, neighbors and themselves. But the mixed messages that they’re seeing make that too difficult.

We’re supposed to stay at home – maybe not travel for Thanksgiving. But kids are in school and the restaurants are drawing crowds. We’re supposed to wear a mask, but it’s not clear when and where to everyone.

Since the beginning, public health officials have told us what to expect. And here, with an on-time and predictable arrival, is the fall and winter wave they’ve been warning about.

There was good news this week about a potential vaccine, but that doesn’t temper the requirement for a robust response. Even if the good news sticks, the vaccine is likely months away and maybe longer for most people.

Each of us is called to try to do the right thing. Now we need to hear loudly and clearly what that means.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.

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David Farmer, Opinion columnist

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist....