Coronavirus

Gov. Mills’ alternative to quarantine requirement criticized by tourism and hospitality groups

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On Monday, Governor Janet Mills announced an alternative to the 14 day quarantine for out-of- state visitors as part of a new “Keep Maine Healthy” plan.

Beginning July 1st, out-of-state visitors who have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of their arrival may forgo the two week quarantine. Hotels and other tourism businesses will not be required to ask visitors for proof of their test result. 

“We don’t want to make the hotel staff become a repository for HIPAA protected information,” Mills said in a press conference on Monday. “[Out of state visitors] may be asked for the actual test result… if questions arise someone may ask for the test result confirming it.”

Visitors from New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt from the testing option and 14 day quarantine altogether. Their exemption is effective immediately for travel and effective Friday for lodging. 

“When adjusted for population, the prevalence of active cases of COVID-19 in these states is similar to that in Maine. There is no other state with as low a prevalence of COVID-19 within a 12 hour drive,” a statement from the Mills administration said. “Meanwhile, the prevalence of the virus in states like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey… is eight to eleven times higher than the population-adjusted cases in Maine.”

Tourism industry representatives, who have spoken out against Mills’ restrictive reopening measures, expressed disappointment with the new plan, which they hoped would allow for significantly more out-of-state visitors. 

“Requiring visitors to get a test before coming may deter tourists just as much as the quarantine if people can’t access tests,” Steve Hewins, CEO of HospitalityMaine, told the Portland Press Herald. 

Many businesses in the industry fear the tragic economic consequences of restrictions for out-of-state visitors and recognize the urgency of the situation. 

“We’re 90 days to Labor Day, we have a very short season in Maine and every day counts,” Eben Salvatore of Work With Maine said Tuesday on the WGAN Morning News. “Just kicking the can down the road is digging us deeper and deeper into a hole that many people can’t recover from.”

“[The testing alternative] is a poor way of addressing the issue. It’s not based on public health, it’s based on reduction. The goal is to reduce our visitation in total, and it’s working incredibly effectively,” Salvatore said. “All we’ve done is replaced a ‘keep away’ message with the quarantine to a ‘please go somewhere else’ message with the testing.”

Work with Maine’s proposed plan for reopening hotels encourages pre-arrival communication with guests, social distancing protocols and enhanced sanitation, but does not require a 14-day quarantine nor proof of a negative test from out-of-state visitors. 

Mills’ multilayered plan also includes increased symptom checking at busy tourism sites. Visitors in high-traffic areas, such as visitors’ centers and beach parking lot entrances, may be asked about symptoms.

The easing of restrictions comes as Maine rapidly expands its testing capacity. On Monday, the administration announced plans to create a new mobile lab in partnership with the Maine firm IDEXX Laboratories that will quadruple current testing capacity for the virus. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services will develop more testing sites throughout Maine and allow more people in Maine with higher risk of exposure to get tested. 

As of June 8, there are 2,305 confirmed cases in Maine. Monday saw the lowest number of new cases – 18 – since May 12.

About Isabelle Christie

Isabelle Christie is a senior at Marist College pursuing a degree in history and minors in communication and writing. She is currently serving as Maine Policy Institute’s summer 2020 communications intern.

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