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Self-quarantine order for out-of-state travelers raises questions amid coronavirus, COVID-19

The current restriction on out of state travelers to Maine due to coronavirus, COVID-19, will stay in effect through July

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Tuesday, Governor Janet Mills ordered that restaurants and hotels can begin to reopen to Maine residents on June 1, but the current restriction on out of state travelers to Maine will stay in effect through July. That order requires anyone traveling into Maine, except for “essential workers”, to self-quarantine for 14 days. That requirement is raising an alarm among businesses in Maine's tourist industry, which depends on millions of visitors “from away."

There are thousands of out of state residents in Maine already, some who escaped their home states for the beauty and social distance of second homes, while others have escaped the cities to stay with relatives here. Some have presumably obeyed current self-quarantine guidelines.

But what will a continuation of those quarantine requirements mean for Maine’s touristy industry, which normally welcomes millions of out of staters here every summer?

Restaurants, hotels and other lodging places account for ten percent of all Maine jobs, says Steve Hewins of Hospitality Maine., a trade group that represents many of those businesses. Hewins says the possibility of losing millions of customers to the threat of quarantine is a big threat to the industry. 

“I can’t see how it could operate successfully. The numbers (are) not enough to operate. I know some places like Bar Harbor Ogunquit, Old Orchard might not survive with that level.. And I worry more about small business,” said Hewins.

what the continued quarantine requirement would actually mean is unclear. Would out of state residents be able to come for a weekend at their own camp or cottage, stay and go home? Could they do a few quarantine days in a rental? What about campers? 

Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, says they don’t have those answers yet, but is trying to develop a plan to balance health and safety with keeping businesses open..

“The quarantine piece is what is available to us today. Science is continuing to evolve and we know we have a little bit of time between now and when we expect more people to want to come to Maine and us to attract more people to Maine. “

Johnson and Dr. Nirtav Shah of the Maine CDC said they will be studying a range of options that could help reduce or even eliminate the need for self0quarantine, but those discussions are just starting. Both said they hope to find alternatives that can protect public health while encouraging more visitors.

Tourist season typically starts with Memorial Day weekend, which will be before restaurants or hotels are allowed to be open to the public. Johnson said she doubts they will have alternatives ready that soon.

“I think it is unlikely we will have widespread tourism access by Memorial Day,” Johnson said.

“Having said that, there may be some smaller things we can get to an agreement on by then, and we are working through those.” 

Finding ways to avoid the self-quarantine requirement will be vital to the health of the tourist industry and Maine’s economy. Steve Hewins says that in an average year, restaurants and lodging provide about $6 billion in direct benefit to Maine’s economy.

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