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Marking One Year Of Pandemic, Maine Public Deep Dive Looks At How Coronavirus Has Changed The State

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public file

It was a year ago this week that the impact of the pandemic reached Maine as Gov. Janet Mills issued her first executive orders.

Maine Public News will be taking a Deep Dive into what the pandemic has meant for the state.

Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz spoke with News and Public Affairs Director Mark Simpson about the series.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: So tell us more about the Deep Dive. What are we doing and why now?

Simpson: Yeah, this is actually our second Deep Dive looking at the coronavirus. Way back in the fall, it feels like so long ago, we looked at the reopening of schools. But so much has happened between now and then. And like you said, here we are at this one-year anniversary mark. So at this point, this experience that we’ve all been going through is starting to feel like the new normal. And we’re starting to see the changes happen as the COVID vaccines are starting to roll out. So it’s a moment to reflect on kind of the future and the past at the same time. And we’ve certainly seen these disruptions on various sectors that are so important to Maine, whether it’s in tourism, it’s in the fishing industry, restaurant industry, health care, what has happened to parents and kids, schools, education. It has all been touched. So this is a moment to reflect back on that. And also to try to tease out some really interesting stories that our news team has uncovered as they’ve gone through this whole year with everybody.

What have we learned so far?

Yeah, the takeaways are very mixed and varied, because it’s touched so many aspects of life. One thing we’ve seen is misinformation that was out there initially, just about testing or the costs of COVID care. And we’ve heard stories about people who were afraid to engage in the health system because of lack of coverage or something like that. We’ve also seen in real time how the government responds to a crisis. And this is at all levels. This is at the municipal level, it’s at the state level and the national level. And it has also exposed the systems that are there in government, the systems that are there socially. What does it mean for people that are vulnerable? What does it mean for groups that are not getting full access to the systems that they deserve, the care they deserve? And then just at a functional level, in terms of how people work, we’ve seen things change. There’s this segment of the population that their jobs have gone on, not drastically changed, but now with these new health precautions in place. Yet, others are able to take advantage, as we speak now, at home through technology. We’re able to have our work shifted, but this has had big ramifications for the way offices think and work. And as a side tangent, we’ll hear more about in our reporting how the real estate market has started to change. Who’s coming into the state of Maine? Who’s buying up properties? All of these things are touched by this moment.


Well, as you mentioned, the pandemic has posed challenges for everyone, including us. How has it affected our ability to gather and report the news?

Yeah, for viewers who are watching this, they’ll see Irwin that you’re sitting in your home studio and I’m sitting in my home office. For our listeners, we’ve shifted most of our core staff into a remote work scenario. That was one big hurdle to figure out — how do we make that happen? Because you don’t want people close together in a confined space, which is just what a radio studio is. But for our reporters in the field, especially, we’ve had to think about the health precautions. To make sure, are they able to be masked, gloved, hand sanitized, able to keep social distance? We’ve had to go get those big boom poles that you might use for something else. But now that has become part of the standard kit. And then just access to people, right? The art of journalism is carried out a lot face to face — those one-on-one conversations, the interviews. We’ve had to find new ways to work around that, whether it’s through the phone or doing something like Zoom. But we’re not bringing people into our studios because of those health precautions. So that’s one thing. And then the last thing is just how we access information has also changed. There’s so much that does happen in person. And so we’ve had to just shift into this virtual remote sphere. And I have to praise our team for the job they’ve done — whether that’s across technology and IT — are the reporting staff. They’ve all really pulled through this, and we’ve been able to have this continuity of coverage over this past year.

And in the midst of that, too, then we had all of the protests triggered by George Floyd’s death to cover, as well. That created a whole other range of challenges.

Right, it becomes this complex moment in what’s already a complex situation. And then on top of it, there’s this other layer of wanting to be safe and think of the health aspects and these sorts of things. So just a complicated year. But again, I have to really give a shout out to our team, who has risen to the occasion to make it happen.

Talk a little bit more about what our Deep Dive is going to cover.

Yeah, there’s a lot of great stories here. In particular, our State House folks have been looking at the impact on state government. That’s very interesting. We’ve heard so much about nursing homes and the challenges that they’ve gone through. We’ve got great personal stories about what that’s been like. Also interesting conversations with members of our Native American population, how vulnerable populations in the Penobscot Nation are getting access to the health care that they need. Effects on mental health — we’ve heard a lot about this, and we’re gonna hear more, too, about what’s happened to people in crisis who have these support systems that suddenly they’re not able to access. What’s happened to them? Immigrant families, language barrier, how do you get this crucial information out during these times, and the vulnerability that those families are facing? We’re going to learn about that. Maine is famous for its arts scene, and gallery scene. And those folks have had to make big pivots. So we’re gonna learn about that. And we’re also going to hear — we’ve seen this uptick around local food and what’s happening in the agriculture sector and also in recreation, which of course, Maine is also so well known for and relies on. And also, Irwin, you have big conversations coming up yourself.

Yeah, we’ll be talking with Gov. Mills, and also be talking to the head of Live and Work in Maine, talking about some of those shifts in work and life patterns that we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic. Any final thoughts?

Well, this all kicks off for us the week of March 15. It will be available also to hear and to view online at mainepublic.org/coronavirus. And then I do want to say the week after our series, we are going to have a virtual panel event with our reporting staff to talk more in depth with our audience about these stories. And there’ll be more details about that coming up at mainepublic.org. But that event is slated for 6:30 p.m. March 24.

For more stories in Deep Dive: Coronavirus, visit mainepublic.org/coronavirus.