Today, Maine Policy Institute, the Pine Tree State’s free-market think tank, released a new report that sheds light on the harmful effects of Governor Janet Mills’ wholesale shutdown of Maine in response to COVID-19. The report, “COVID Catastrophe: Consequences of Societal Shutdowns” examines the history of the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on Maine and which data policymakers used to lock down society and centrally plan our economy.
Nick Murray, policy analyst with Maine Policy and author of the report, draws on data compiled by state, national and global agencies, finding that the situation in Maine no longer necessitates a Civil State of Emergency and that the decision to lock down likely resulted in greater negative consequences than the virus could have inflicted on its own.
At the time the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Maine, there was not enough evidence to show that full-scale lockdowns would be the most effective strategy. In fact, the evidence available in March suggested the vast majority of people would not suffer severe illness from the virus. This should have led state leaders to focus limited resources on protecting the most vulnerable in society. However Gov. Mills opted to shut down the entire state.
The economic costs of the lockdown were immense. Unemployment skyrocketed and participation in the state’s labor force plummeted. Businesses continue to permanently close their doors.
The unilateral lockdown strategy of the Maine government also deteriorated public health. Despite the documented increased costs of delaying “elective” procedures, the regional epidemic of drug addiction has also gotten worse. Maine lost 127 people to drug overdose deaths from January to March 2020, 23% more than in the last quarter of 2019. Nationally, data show a 13% increase in overdose deaths in the first quarter of this year, yet Maine has exceeded that trend. It is estimated that drug overdose deaths in Maine over the first half of 2020 will reach almost 260, more than double the total number of deaths from COVID-19.
The report also found that the Mills administration was opaque in its decision-making: Maine did not release daily tallies of negative testing results until the end of May, leaving out over two months of data to calculate a more granular-level trend line. Town-level data on COVID-19 infections were not released until June. Maine was the last state to report both of these key metrics to the public. The Mills administration also broke the state’s open meeting laws by conducting closed-door briefings with selected legislators at the start of the pandemic.
“Governor Mills and the administration were sorely mistaken to enact broad mandates with limited information on the new virus, trashing Mainers’ rights and destroying the hard-earned livelihoods of many,” Murray said. “Instead of focusing their response on Maine’s truly vulnerable, the governor chose to shut down ‘nonessential’ businesses across the state, even in the vast swaths of rural Maine which have suffered much deeper economic and public health consequences than the virus could have inflicted.”
“It is clear that Maine is no longer in a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The governor’s heavy-handed unilateral policy decisions have plunged the state into an economic malaise from which it will likely take years to fully recover,” Matthew Gagnon, CEO of Maine Policy Institute said.
The report also calls on lawmakers to make permanent some of the temporary changes Gov. Mills ordered under the state of emergency, including relaxing regulations on medical licensing, telehealth services, and the certificate of need process. These reforms would increase access to healthcare and make services more affordable for Mainers.
Click here to read the full analysis