A sign equates mask wearing with caring for neighbors in downtown Portland on Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, huge weather fluctuations, rising energy prices and other concerns dominating the news, the COVID pandemic has largely been pushed from the front pages.

Many people, as the Bangor Daily News reported earlier this week, are ready to move on. There are many positive signs: Hospitalizations have dropped significantly from their peak earlier this year. The daily number of positive cases is trending downward since a peak in January. As a result, many schools and communities are lifting mask mandates and hospitals are resuming routine procedures that had been put off as they scrambled to handle the crush of patients sick with the novel coronavirus.

Amid the positive news, there is still reason for concern: New mutations have been found and experts predict more will develop as the virus continues to mutate. That’s why stalled progress on vaccinations is a concern. Nationally, about two-thirds of Americans are fully vaccinated. Less than a third have gotten booster shots. Maine has among the highest vaccination and booster rates in the country, although the rates vary by county.

Yet, when the Maine Center for Disease Control completed a review of records, 53 new COVID deaths were reported on Thursday. This brings the number of deaths in Maine associated with COVID to more than 2,000.

This is a startling milestone that should prompt sadness, concern and – because it is not too late for many people to better protect themselves from COVID through vaccinations and booster shots – action.

“I ask all Maine people to join me in remembering those we have lost, honoring their lives, and doing what we can to prevent more illness and death, most especially by getting vaccinated,” Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday.

As we near the second anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Maine, we’ve all experienced the pandemic in different ways. Some lost their jobs. Some worked extra-long shifts to care for sick people, to deliver essential goods and to keep businesses open. Many suffered through isolation and separation from other people to minimize the spread of the disease. Students spent months learning remotely, interacting with their teachers, classmates and friends only remotely. Parents juggled jobs and childcare. Family vacations, weddings and graduations were canceled, these milestone events lost to the pandemic and the accompanying precautions.

The largest losses are those people who are no longer with us. The mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters lost to COVID. The friends, neighbors and coworkers who are no longer part of our daily routines. There have been empty chairs at Thanksgiving dinners. Fewer presents under the Christmas trees. And funerals, so many funerals.

When we think back on the pandemic, there are many losses to mourn, but none more so than the more than 2,000 Mainers who are no longer with us. Each death leaves a hole in a family, in a community.

Yet, for whatever reason, the shock and outrage that typically follows an event that kills so many people is largely missing here.

Tragically, many of these deaths were likely preventable with vaccination, which makes Maine’s milestone even sadder. Half of Maine’s COVID deaths have occured in the less than six months since September of 2021, when vaccinations had long been available. The previous 1,000 deaths occurred over a 18-month span beginning in March of 2020.

The risks of hospitalization and death with COVID are dramatically reduced by vaccinations and booster shots. Since May, when all Maine adults became eligible to be fully vaccinated, the counties with the highest death rates — Androscoggin, Franklin, Penobscot and Somerset — all have vaccination rates lower than 67 percent.

It is not too late to get your vaccination or a booster shot. Pharmacies and clinics across the state are offering them for free.

There are encouraging signs that the COVID pandemic is easing, but caution should still guide collective and individual decision making. And, we can’t lose sight of the terrible toll that the virus has taken. One way to do this is to remember the lives lost in the past two years.

Avatar photo

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...