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Portland small business owners urge Gov. Mills to slow reopening, keep 14-day quarantine in place

The letter signed by 80 business owners is in response to a push by Maine tourism groups to lift the quarantine requirement for out-of-staters.

PORTLAND, Maine — At least 80 small business owners in Maine's largest city sent a letter to Governor Janet Mills this week urging her to keep the state's 14-day quarantine rule for out-of-state travelers in place. 

The move comes as restaurants and businesses in 12 counties started to reopen to in-store customers this week. That does not include Portland, in Cumberland County where there is evidence of community spread. 

"We may be in a situation where even the most rural places are going to have all kinds of people from those places come in and spread the disease," chef and restaurant owner, David Turin, said.

While Turnin said he is "losing a catastrophic amount of money," he worries about the safety of his employees.

"The more the state is open the more Portland is at risk," Erin Kiley said. 

Kiley owns Portland Flea-for-All—one of the first businesses in Portland to close its doors when the coronavirus pandemic in Maine started. 

Read the letter sent to Gov. Mills:

She led the effort to write the letter after a separate letter was sent by some of the state's largest tourism groups last week asking Mills to lift the quarantine rule to salvage the tourism industry.

RELATED: Maine tourism groups call for an end to 14-day quarantine rule for out-of-state visitors

Many of those that signed on, including restaurants, bars, and gift shops, are owner-operated businesses with a small number of employees.

"The worst-case scenario would be opening too quickly and having a huge virus outbreak which would set us all back to start," Kiley said. 

Both Kiley and Turin said they feel like the Governor is caving to pressure and straying from her promise to make decisions following scientific data.

The letter said it hopes Mills "stands firm...until a safe and immediate testing option is available for any visitor coming into the state."

RELATED: Retail stores can reopen in 12 of 16 Maine counties

RELATED: Maine restaurants can reopen in rural counties after coronavirus restrictions

Mills was not available for an interview Tuesday, but she did speak to the issue at a press conference on Monday. 

"We're working on some alternatives--some way to not enforce the 14-day quarantine, but allow people to be tested, allow people to conform to various precautions, but we're not there yet," she said. 

The Department of Economic and Community Development released the following statement to NEWS CENTER Maine: 

"The Administration maintained the previously-established 14-day quarantine – a proven epidemiological strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus – because it is one of the limited number of tools we currently have to effectively protect Maine people against the virus. Meanwhile, hot-spots such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts continue to report a significant number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. These are the same states from which we draw the vast majority of our tourists. The Administration is committed to working collaboratively with the tourism and hospitality sectors to pursue innovative and practical solutions that protect to the health of Maine people and the health of Maine’s economy. This is a work in progress, largely because of the evolving science and our ongoing, but recently successful, work to expand testing capacity in Maine. Ultimately, it is the goal of the Administration to be able to reexamine the 14-day quarantine, but to also do so in a way that protects the health of Maine people. The last thing anyone wants to do is to overwhelm our health care system, put frontline responders more at risk, or potentially further destabilize our economy for an even longer period of time."

The Mills Administration announced more changes to its reopening plan Tuesday, including allowing state campgrounds to open to in-state residents ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

RELATED: Mills revises reopening plan ahead of Memorial Day weekend

After that, hotels will be able to start accepting guests June 1 under strict health guidelines. 

Business owners like Kiley fear any additional easing of restrictions will place Portland businesses in particular in danger as they are at the center of the state's most popular destination.

"We all feel that we can succeed if we're allowed to do so on our own terms," Kiley said.

RELATED: Maine lodging businesses can begin accepting out-of-state reservations

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

NEWS CENTER Maine Coronavirus Coverage

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