Bangor started the “Mask Up for ME” awareness campaign in June aimed to encourage people to wear face coverings when in public to limit the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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It is a sober moment in Maine. The coronavirus pandemic which has been mostly beyond our borders is hitting our towns and cities in Maine with fervor. The current wave of COVID-19 cases occurring in our communities is something that concerns us all.

In Penobscot County, in two short weeks, we’ve gone from 35 active cases ( October 25) to more than doubling to 86 active cases as of Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The number of local residents sick with this virus is growing. Visits to healthcare facilities have increased as have COVID-19 based hospitalizations. Concerns over COVID-19 are straining our ability to care for the community’s regular healthcare needs.

It is time for each and every one of us to do our part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills announced a mandatory mask order — regardless of a person’s ability to socially distance — in all public spaces, inside and out. We are asking you today, on behalf of the organizations that care for our community’s health and well being, to take her call to heart and to do your part.

In the early months of this pandemic, rapid changes in our understanding of coronavirus caused conflicting information about how effective masks are in preventing the spread of the disease. But today, we are here to collectively tell you that science has proven, in the past nine months, that masks do work and that masks will help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Masks are not a political statement. They are a health and safety necessity. And an economic one. Businesses and schools will be able to keep operating in person if our case numbers do not continue to grow. Now is the time for us all to increase our diligence in, and show our commitment to, caring for one another. We ask you to take this issue seriously and follow the advice of local healthcare experts to wear a mask, stay physically distant, and wash your hands frequently.

While you may feel that you are strong and healthy and able to withstand this deadly virus, others are not. Masks are not infallible. However, wearing a mask is the best chance we have to protect our community members. This is not about individual freedom or personal decision making. This is about caring about the health of our loved ones and our community members.

Staying physically distant, washing our hands and wearing a mask in public, regardless of how far apart we are, or whether we are inside or outside, will help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

We are asking you today to join us in taking a stand for our community, its residents, and its businesses. Together, if we wear a mask in public, wash our hands, and stay more than 6 feet apart, we can slow the spread of this disease in our region.

We have been fortunate to live in a region with a relatively low count of cases throughout this pandemic. Maine has largely been a model for working together to keep numbers down. The trends we see today are bringing us dangerously close to wiping away that history as we surge toward a crisis.

Time and again we’ve seen this community rise to the challenge of making our region a better place to live, work, and play. We can do it this time as well.

Together we can show the rest of Maine, and the nation, that we are truly leaders in caring for one another.

Rand O’Leary is the president of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Lori Dwyer is the president and CEO of Penobscot Community Health Care. Scott Oxley is the president of Northern Light Acadia Hospital. Patty Hamilton is the public health director for the City of Bangor. Mary Prybylo is the senior vice president and president of St. Joseph Healthcare/St. Joseph Hospital. Kara Hay is the president and CEO of Penquis. Dyan M. Walsh is the executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Catherine M. Conlow is the Bangor City Manager. Kathy Harris-Smedberg is the interim superintendent of schools for the Bangor School Department. Dale Hamilton is the executive director of Community Health and Counseling Services.