A Lifeflight of Maine helicopter takes off from Maine Medical Center's landing pad in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Tom Judge is the executive director of LifeFlight of Maine. Norm Dinerman and Peter Tilney are the medical directors of LifeFlight of Maine.

Please be clear, COVID is still with us and we are a long way from the end of this pandemic.

At LifeFlight we only see the sickest of COVID patients needing a major medical center ICU. We care for several of these patients each day. Increasingly we transport these patients out of state when our major hospitals are beyond their capacity.

We are strangers to the people who come into our care but we share the heartbreak of their families and loved ones. Families across our great country are in mourning as we approach the holidays. There are far too many empty chairs at what should otherwise be joyous dinner tables.

The struggle continues. In the news, many hospitals in Alaska and hospitals in the western U.S.  implemented  crisis standards of care — triage decision making in which physicians do not have the resources to treat everyone coming to the hospital and must choose who might have a chance to live and who is likely to die. This truly is battlefield medicine.  

The numbers are stark and the news numbing. While Maine has done better than most states by every measure, in the last 24 hours we’ve surpassed 1,179 deaths. Nationally, we crossed 747,000 deaths. And the numbers keep climbing — more than 1 out of every 140 Americans have been hospitalized and 1 out of every 447 Americans have succumbed to COVID. Hundreds of thousands more will struggle with long COVID debilitation.  

Said a bit differently, we have now experienced more total COVID deaths in 18 months in the United States than the total of every combat death in the entirety of every war the U.S. has been involved in from the Revolution forward. And each recent day has added at least 1,100 deaths.  

The numbers are staggering and must spur us to action, not retreat.

We have dedicated our lives to medicine and we are saddened by the polarization around this disease. In a war everyone must lean in to protect those around them. Our choices need to be more than about ourselves, however we feel individually. And be clear this is a world-wide war, albeit fought with science, not weapons, with vaccines and safe practices, not bomb shelters. There is no place to hide. We are in this foxhole together.  

For the last 18 months, the days, weeks and months have flowed together. It has been an extraordinarily difficult time as we experience each successive surge, now delta. COVID has affected us all and we will not fully know the impact for at least several years as the pandemic bumps along with echo surges and we begin to grasp the yet-to-come pandemics in mental health and education disruption. We now risk a fifth surge as influenza season is upon us.  

Hopefully, by next summer, COVID transitions from a pandemic to an endemic disease. We will get there, but for now, we need to protect our children, protect our vulnerable elderly and immunocompromised, keep our schools open, keep our economy moving forward, keep Maine the way life should be. This is the to-do list to defeat this insidious disease:

Get vaccinated if you are not already and encourage everyone you know who is hesitant to look at the science. Vaccines are our primary defense both individually and collectively and the best means to prevent hospitalization and death.

Wear masks indoors or in large gatherings outdoors.

Watch your distance, watch our symptoms and wash our hands.

Get your flu vaccine as quickly as possible.

Maintain your pace. This is incredibly wearing on all of us and we need to maintain our focus and center.

Stay in touch with your family and loved ones. It is always the best respite.

Maintain our compassion and empathy in trying times.

On behalf of everyone who works to keep Maine safe every day — our healthcare, our public safety, our teachers and our business workers, along with everyone helping their community public health efforts to contain and defeat COVID — please help us save lives and make sure there are no more empty chairs this year.


Please stay strong, stay healthy and join us in this battle.