Mask an unmasked patrons walk along a row of food stands inside Grand Central Station Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County might be imposing a mandate on July 29 if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

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With few masks in sight and stores, restaurants, entertainment venues and hospitals returning to relatively normal operations, it would be easy to think that COVID is behind us.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as much as we’d all like it to be. A more transmissible variant, BA.5, is spreading across the country and now accounts for more than two-thirds of COVID cases nationally. In the past two weeks, the number of COVID cases, and related hospitalizations and deaths have increased in the U.S. The number of new cases in Maine is trending upward as well. The numbers, however, remain small compared to previous COVID surges.

Still, health officials fear that both elected officials and the public have gotten too complacent about the ongoing pandemic and the new variant, which one expert called the worst yet. They are also concerned that the public has “pandemic fatigue” and won’t heed new warnings.

“That’s my biggest fear — that we’re so anxious to be done with this virus that we’re getting complacent,” Barbara Ferrer, the public health director for Los Angeles County, told the New York Times.

Officials in that California county have said they are planning to reinstitute an indoor mask mandate by the end of the month. The number of COVID deaths per week recently doubled and sewage testing shows that the surge is likely to keep growing.

“COVID is not going away,” Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said in a statement to the BDN editorial board. “The virus will continue to evolve in its quest for survival.”

“The Omicron subvariants, which are currently predominant in Maine, are more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus,” he added. “With people interacting more freely and often than was the case in 2020 and 2021, the more transmissible subvariants are likely to continue driving higher case counts.”

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. If you are not fully vaccinated or have not received one or more booster shots (Americans over 50 are currently eligible for a second booster), you should do so now. The state’s COVID response website has information about vaccine and booster eligibility and availability.

Less than half of all eligible U.S. adults have gotten a single booster shot, and only about 1 in 4 Americans age 50 and older who are eligible for a second booster have received one.

The FDA recently authorized vaccines for children between 6 months and 5 years old.

Maine’s COVID vaccination and booster shots rates exceed the national averages, which Shah credits with playing a key role in the state’s comparatively low rates of critical care and ventilator use.

Still, a new state report revealed last week that COVID has become the third leading cause of death in Maine, behind cancer and heart disease.

To better protect yourself, and others, from the spread of coronavirus, Shah recommends these steps as well:

Hold gatherings outdoors to significantly reduce the risk of virus transmission. If gathering indoors is the only option, choose a well-ventilated space.

Stay home and avoid interaction with others if you have a sore throat, fever, fatigue, or any other symptoms of COVID-19. Get tested if you think you have been exposed to COVID. Free at-home tests, which can also be purchased from many stores, are still available.

Make a plan now with your medical provider to be able to gain quick access to antiviral pill Paxlovid or another treatment should you test positive for COVID-19.

As for mask wearing, Shah said “those who perceive themselves to be at greater risk because of the subvariants should consider wearing masks at indoor public settings.” He also recommended that Maine people and visitors to the state follow the U.S. CDC’s masking guidance based on the risk levels where they are and where they plan to travel. Maine is currently considered low risk.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...