AUGUSTA, Maine — Most Mainers have spent the past year and counting adapting to a new normal -- one that was filled with isolation and unknowns as a result of a global pandemic. With July just a day away, Maine is rounding the corner and turning the page on a new chapter when it comes to COVID-19 response. The pandemic isn't over, but the light at the end of the tunnel is a lot brighter now.
Maine's state of civil emergency will end on Wednesday, June 30, after being in effect for 15 months. When Gov. Janet Mills announced this decision in mid-June, she called it an important step in the "return to normal," noting in a statement that this milestone reflects progress Maine has made in getting people vaccinated and reducing the spread of COVID-19.
The state of civil emergency was supposed to end on June 13, but Mills pushed that date back so state government departments could determine policies that may need to be extended temporarily.
As of Monday, June 28, 1,516,649 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered, including 775,491 final doses. That means a little more than 65 percent of the population has received a final dose so far.
The end of the state of civil emergency brings with it an end to Maine's last face-covering requirement. As of Wednesday, face coverings are no longer required indoors at pre-K through 12 schools and child care settings. The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention still recommends that people who are unvaccinated wear face coverings indoors, though. Health experts say even with a decrease in cases and fewer hospitalizations, it's important to stay cautious.
"If you haven't been vaccinated, please make sure you're taking those precautions, or if you can't be vaccinated, make sure you're continuing to wear your face covering and doing all the good things," Dr. James Jarvis, senior vice president at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, said. "All of us should continue to wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer."
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Mills will join Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah at the last regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing. Over the past year, Shah has become a Maine icon people have learned to know and trust. He has regularly appeared on computers and TV. screens times to keep Mainers up to date -- and those on the frontlines say they received just as much support.
"The steps that he took in the things that he told us to do -- and those of us who followed the steps -- that's what helped us to keep these numbers as low as they were," said Art Cleaves, Emergency Management director for York County. He says the weeks to come without regular appearances by Shah "won't be the same," because Shah always made himself to answer questions.
"I remember a couple of times very early on when we were experiencing outbreaks in various communities, long-term care facilities and other institutions -- my phone would ring, either a text message or a phone call from Dr. Shah at 11 o'clock at night, or at six in the morning or both," Cleaves said.
Cleaves said Shah was there to lead the way when the unknowns felt intimidating and could always explain situations in a way that made sense to everyone.
"Sometimes we don't agree with the decision that's made strategically," Cleaves said. "He took the time to explain that decision, so it's understandable and then actionable at our level."
Jarvis said Shah's leadership provided an important lesson when it comes to health care in Maine.
"To me, it shows that both our government and our private enterprises in health care, anyway, can work together," Jarvis said. "They did work for the benefit of everybody."
It's one of the silver linings the pandemic has presented.
"It's because of that collaboration that we had that Maine has been so successful, and we want to see that continue," Jarvis said.
If you would like to share a thank-you message with Dr. Shah, you can submit a video to the "Near ME" section of our mobile app.