I’ve been to a hotspot or two around the world, but I never expected to find one in Waldo County. According to Maine’s CDC, nearly 100 COVID-19 cases in recent weeks make it exactly that. It’s possible I even contracted the virus there myself.

With a case rate 2.5 times higher than what the national CDC considers ‘high transmission,’ Waldo’s recent, dramatic uptick to 249 cases per 10,000 people makes you wonder why.

Maine’s CDC points the finger to community transmission. If they’re right, I shoulder some of the blame: I attended an open-air Tuba Skinny jazz concert in Belfast last week. A July 27 Arise USA pro-Trump at the Crosby Center downtown drew fire for being reckless, but a spokesman for Maine’s CDC told the Bangor Daily News their investigation found no single gathering as the source.

An internal investigation into an outbreak at Waldo County General Hospital concluded that the outbreak there likely originated from outside, the Republican Journal reported.

All of this suggests just one thing: the virus is contagious and is just going around and around. Just more intensely for some reason in Waldo County.

Since I’m fully vaccinated, ominous hotspot talk didn’t scare me away from Waldo. Nor could it, even if I were skeptical of the protection it affords me, but that’s another matter. AXIOS reported on new research that shows even though the vaccines remain almost 100% effective against death and serious illness, there are a rising number of cases of a milder variant being transmitted among the vaccinated.

In my view, that’s not a reason to refuse the poke. But it comes at a time of new anxiety about the delta variant and a resurgence. The good news for those of us in Maine is that it comes towards the end of the summer season, after small businesses had a better summer than last.

The bad news is that some shutdowns are coming back.

My dog remains in quarantine in Waldo. I had a negative test result this morning, but am skeptical of the instant test’s accuracy, and I’m talking precautions myself. Such is life in the age of COVID-19. I find myself wallowing in the Waldo outbreak, waiting for it to clear so the promise of a normal life – so tantalizing in our grasp just a week ago – might be restored.

In many ways, Waldo County is the heart of Maine. A little more than a year ago, the state was rife with dark talk about the hotspot counties of the south, namely York and Cumberland. Now, there’s an outbreak closer to home, and it seizes our attention like a lungful of icy air. What are the lessons of Waldo?

On Aug. 12, Gov. Mills announced mandatory vaccinations for health care workers. Chances are that’s just the beginning. Given the emergence of breakthrough cases, such as those among the vaccinated, one wonders if this is enough. Belfast parents received emails from schools, alerting of a return to remote classes during the start of the school year, with a forewarning these could be extended all year. More and more businesses there are shuttering their doors until things improve.

A land of lore since Nathanial Hawthorne’s “House of Seven Gables,” Waldo County deserves better. Let’s all roll up our sleeves and do what we can to help the place return to normal. The proud and independent citizens of Maine’s heartland don’t take easily to mandates. But these are tough times.

Mine may be the least of the privations shouldered by those singed by the hotspot, but I really miss my dog, and can’t wait for her to come home.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.