Colorful swings sit idle on a snowy morning in Portland on Tuesday Dec. 28, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

Like thousands of other Mainers, I finally popped positive on a New Year’s COVID test. So did our three little ones.

We’re fine. I was vaccinated, although not boosted. I had a day with a fever and chills. Our oldest was 5 and fully vaccinated. No real symptoms.

The younger two are 3 and 1. Our middle one had a fever one night, but was up and at ‘em the next morning. She was much more concerned about whether she could play Super Mario. The baby was fine.

In short, for us, it was like any other illness that arises in homes containing small children.

The virus is running rampant in health care settings both in Maine and nationwide. Fortunately, the severity of the disease appears to be lessening.

We are approaching the day where the “pandemic” ends and COVID becomes “endemic.” That is a good thing. But it will require us to begin to start thinking differently as we consider lessons learned.

The Legislature reconvened this week in Augusta. The first pitched battle of the season concerned the adoption of rules for remote participation. The Democratic majorities achieved their objective and placed the committees into fully remote status. The GOP fought against this, advocating for a hybrid model that allowed in-person citizen engagement.

Sen. Stacey Guerin, a Republican from Glenburn, offered an anecdote. She is firmly established on the right side of the political spectrum. However, she sat next to Democratic Rep. Matt Moonen in the Judiciary Committee for years. Moonen is fairly far to the left, serving as EqualityMaine’s executive director.  

They are not people you would think might naturally pair off. But Guerin talked about the relationship – and friendship – they built serving together. It led to robust policymaking. They often reached consensus, but, even when they did not, they remained respectful.

It highlights the importance of presence. There are numerous studies which indicate large amounts of human communication is not verbal. Building personal relationships through direct interaction makes our system work. Policymaking requires miles of nuance; details are often lost if you are solely communicating through a computer screen.

Meanwhile, in an 8-1 remote vote Monday night, the Portland City Council ended their “state of emergency.” This drew the ire of the local Democratic Socialists, because the end of the emergency meant that Portland’s minimum wage would not increase to nearly $20 per hour.

The mayor and seven councilors voting to end the emergency deserve credit. Many of them angered their political allies on the far left by casting their vote, but they did so with an eye towards the good of the city writ large.  

Ending the “emergency” is a good first step.  

Despite the Omicron surge, finding ways to interact with each other in person will be important; even if it means going to work. Technology can help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation, but face-to-face interaction has a very real positive impact on psychological health.  

As we move forward, redesigning our social safety net will become imperative. Maine’s hospitality workers were financially squished at the start of the pandemic with stay at home orders through no fault of their own. Reconsidering unemployment, social security, welfare, and other programs — maybe into a negative income tax — gives everyone more control over their own destiny.

Cultural changes can work to the good as well. Wearing a mask if you feel ill, out of consideration for others, may be a positive enduring lesson. Whether it is COVID or the cold, minimizing the spread of disease is a good thing.

There is a lot to learn from the past two years. Entering into the endemic stage, we should put those lessons into practice. And the best way to put them into practice is to have policymakers working together, in person, building trust and striving for solutions.  

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.