Maine Gov. Janet Mills should adopt as her theme song the tune popularized in the 1950s by Connie Francis, “Who’s Sorry Now?” 

Since March, when Mills declared a state of civil emergency and shuttered non-essential businesses, and late April, when she began a phased reopening of the economy, she has employed a cautious, step-by-step approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic one informed by scientific data, national Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and the advice of State CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah.  

In response, Republicans and various business groups have accused her of acting like a “dictator,” of failing to consult them, and of ruining the state’s economy, especially its tourist industrythrough the severity and duration of her emergency orders. 

Yet Mills has acted neither arbitrarily or imprudently.   

Her record stands in exemplary contrast to governors in Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewherewho touted their ability to quickly return their states to business as usual without endangering the public health. Those states are now “crying” from the pain of runaway surges in new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and are literally “dying” to bring their COVID statistics down to Maine’s levels. 

The latest salvo against Mills was fired last week by GOP legislators, who demanded she ease restrictions on entry of certain out-of-staters in order to save what’s left of the summer tourist season. They called for Massachusetts and Rhode Island visitors, historically big contributors to Maine tourism, to be exempted from the requirement of either a 14-day quarantine or documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test. They also advocated raising the limit on public gatherings from 50 to 150. 

“Without a chance at salvaging part of the tourism season, businesses and livelihoods are being destroyed,” declared Senate Republican Minority Leader Dana Dow, of Lincoln.  

Mills, who has been muted in her responses to previous partisan attacks on her handling of the pandemic, fired back in exasperation, For the life of me, I cannot understand why Republicans care more about Massachusetts money than the life of a Maine person.” 

It only takes a glance at a pandemic map, like those published online by Johns Hopkins University or the CDC, to vindicate the governor’s decisions about reopening. The maps show, both through color coding and dataCOVID trends on a state-by-state basis.  

Maine, it turns out, has the fewest cases per capita, second only to Vermont, with 289 cases per 1,000 population as of July 29.  The highest per capita rates are in Florida (1,966), New York minus New York City (1,686), Illinois (1,355), Texas (1,329) and California (1,146).  New York’s and Illinois’ high figures are the product of an early and severe outbreak, while Florida, Texas and California have experienced a resurgence due to premature re-opening without appropriate social-distancing rules in force. Maine is doing better than any of these states by multiples of about four to seven and is handily beating the national average of 1,289 per 100,000. 

What about deaths?  In COVID deaths per capita, Maine is in far better shape than most other states.  With 121 deaths through July 29, equating to fewer than nine deaths per 100,000, it is on par with Vermont and behind only Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, Oregon, Utah and Idaho.  Compare this to New Jersey (177), Connecticut (123) and Massachusetts (123). We’re beating the mortality rate of the worst hit states by multiples of about 13 to 20.  

What about the trend in new cases? Again Maine is outperforming most of the nation.  Its graph of new cases has dramatically decreased, while those of the Deep South — Florida, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — soared upward in June and July like double-diamond ski slopes. Florida, for instance, peaked at 12,761 new cases on July 12 and Texas at 12,730 on July 16, while Maine peaked at 78 new cases on May 19 and has since been trending downward with 25 new cases a day as of July 25 and a 7-day average of 23.9 on July 26 

The states which were most cavalier about re-opening have had to consider closing down parts of their economy again, particularly in hotspots, and even businesses allowed to remain open have seen their patronage decline as the result of justifiable public fear of exposure to the virus through community spread. 

But then these states didn’t pay much attention to the advice of infectious disease experts, and they’re now paying the price for it. That’s the thing about nature. You can try to second guess it, spin it or explain it through ”alternate facts, but it’s still going to stubbornly behave in accordance with its own laws and ignore human agendas.   

It would be nice to think that we could have it both ways — that visitors from out of state and large gatherings of people would scrupulously observe mask, social distancing rules and quarantine rules on a voluntary basis, thereby making government-imposed restrictions unnecessary. But the nation’s experience over the last two months has shown that calls for voluntary compliance do not produce a satisfactory result.  

Whether it’s the result of selfishness, lack of self-discipline, psychological denial, or political partisanship, a large segment of the American populace has demonstrated that it can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Just how large that segment is, we don’t know. What we do know is that voluntary compliance has proven inadequate to prevent community spread. Therefore, government has to stick its finger in the dyke, using regulation and enforcement to prevent a fatal flood of infectious transmission.  

Yes, Mainers love their fairs, festivals, concerts, theater, sporting events, and other summer pastimes, and, in a state whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism, the loss of a robust summer season will hurt.  

But if there’s a COVID resurgence in Maine before a safe and reliable vaccine becomes available, we’ll all be singing, ”Who’s crying now?”  

Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 10 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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