As we enter the eighth month of this pandemic, fears that cool weather would accompany a surge in the pandemic have proven well-placed. Cases of COVID-19 have increased significantly in our coastal Maine communities and recent epidemiological data and case investigations show that Maine is now experiencing widespread community transmission. Let this prompt us all to increase our vigilance.

This may be unsettling to hear, but it is also a reminder that our vigilance is more important than ever. This is especially true since we are already weary of the pandemic.

Care team members at Pen Bay Medical Center (PBMC) and Waldo County General Hospital (WCGH) are on the front lines of this fight against COVID-19. We have in place a multilayered approach to optimize our patients’ safety that includes daily screening, universal masking, use of eye protection and testing, among other CDC recommendations. Despite this, we have seen a small number of positive cases among our employees at WCGH. Please be assured that all appropriate precautions are in place and the affected individuals are in isolation in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Masks remain one of our most effective tools in combating the spread of COVID-19. I urge you to wear a mask over your mouth and nose in any indoor setting where people outside your household are present, even at distances greater than six feet. This will provide protection to others in the event you are infected, just as their masks safeguard you. Remember, people without symptoms can be infected and pass the coronavirus to others. Moreover, we still don’t know to what degree those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 are immune. This means everyone should behave as if they might be infected.

As the holidays approach, I also urge caution about holding gatherings of friends and extended family outside your household circle. It is more important than ever that everyone avoids gatherings, stays six feet apart from others, wears a face covering, uses hand sanitizer and washes hands frequently.

If you are concerned you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or experience symptoms of infection — including fever, chills, sore throat, difficulty breathing, unexplained muscle aches, new cough, loss of taste or smell, nasal congestion or vomiting or diarrhea — you should call your primary care provider for advice on testing, treatment and quarantine measures.

It is also important during this time that you and your family stay as healthy as possible. This means getting a flu shot and if you develop any new medical concerns, do not delay care. PBMC and WCGH are open for all services, and we have extensive protocols in place to keep you safe, including universal masking, frequent cleaning, and designated areas for testing and treating those who may be infected with COVID-19.

MaineHealth has developed a helpful resource for our residents and visitors that can be accessed from any MaineHealth website, including pbmc.org and wcgh.org, or by visiting mainehealth.org/covid-19. This site provides the latest updates on the virus, available resources, our visitor guidelines, testing information, and more.

I am incredibly proud of the talent, commitment and resilience of our care team members throughout the organization and am especially grateful for those in the trenches as they take care of our neighbors, families and friends. Please thank them when you see them.

Thank you for all your support, now and always. We know that we will get through this together by caring for our neighbors and caring for ourselves.