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Mills loosens COVID-19 travel and business capacity restrictions to boost Maine tourism

“Public health and economic health go hand-in-hand – and this plan aims to achieve both,” Mills said in a release

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced loosened coronavirus-related travel restrictions and a reopening plan to boost tourism ahead of the spring and summer.

During the press conference Friday, Mills said many economists have said, "If you want to restore the economy, deal with the pandemic first because you can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people."

"I believe we’re at last on our way to doing just that," she said.

The plan, called "Moving Maine Forward," outlines a timeframe to increase capacity limits and revise travel restrictions. 

The plan immediately allows travelers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, which have reduced their positivity and case rates, to come to Maine without having to quarantine for 10 days or provide a negative COVID-19 test. Previously, only New Hampshire and Vermont were allowed to travel to Maine without restrictions.

The plan exempts travelers who have either recently had COVID-19 or been fully vaccinated against COVID-19—regardless of the state they’re traveling from—from the test or quarantine requirement. Federal requirements related to international travel, however, remain in effect.

On May 1, all travelers—except those from states on a new exclusionary list—will be able to come to Maine without quarantine and testing requirements. 

The plan states that under this new model, "the Maine CDC will be charged with identifying states that have a high prevalence of highly contagious COVID-19 variants. If one or more states see a spike in variant cases, Maine will apply its test or quarantine requirement to travelers to and from that state. This more targeted approach will remain in effect through the summer."

RELATED: Maine CDC: Case of COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa confirmed in Maine

“Public health and economic health go hand-in-hand – and this plan aims to achieve both,” Mills said in a release. “By maintaining proven health measures, providing straightforward protocols, and establishing clear timeframes, this plan will protect the health of Maine people and visitors alike and support Maine’s economy during our critical tourism season.”

In addition, before Memorial Day, capacity limits for businesses and churches will increase from 50 to 75 percent and outdoor limits will increase to 75 percent, and then 100 percent.

Businesses that have more capacity under the current policy (50 people for indoor gatherings; 100 people for outdoor gatherings; or 5 people per 1,000 square feet) are permitted to maintain that standard until May 24.

However, the plan says those capacity targets can be dialed down if the Maine CDC determines hospital capacity is at risk or if a new variant "poses a significant risk to public health."

Mask mandates and other safety protocols like social distancing for businesses will remain in effect.

A target reopening date for bars and tasting rooms has been set for March 26. Those businesses will be required to operate under the "Seated Food and Drink COVID-19 Checklist."

“HospitalityMaine is incredibly excited for these changes, which will help support our industry during the important months ahead,” Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for HospitalityMaine, said in a release. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor to make this a successful and safe tourism season for Maine people, visitors, and businesses alike.”

Statements about the plan from Maine health and business leaders:

Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew: “Additional gatherings, travel, and business engagement will be possible with continued implementation of the public health protocols combined with increased rates of vaccination. That said, COVID-19 has been hard to predict, so we will closely monitor trends and make adjustments if necessary.”

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson: “We recognize the impact the pandemic has had on service industries. We hope that this framework helps businesses safely plan a tourism season that keeps their employees and Maine people safe while allowing their businesses a financial path forward.”

President and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine Curtis Picard: “We are very pleased that retail and other businesses will be able to increase our capacity limits in the coming weeks and months. This will help return us to some sense of normalcy, encourage safe travel to Maine this spring and summer, and continue to balance public health with economic recovery.”

Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron: “Throughout the pandemic, one of the most significant challenges for the tourism industry has been uncertainty about what the future holds. Early spring is a critical time for our businesses as we begin to gear up for what we hope is once again our busy season. A clear understanding of what the travel guidelines are and what capacity limitations will be heading into spring and summer is tremendously helpful. So many of our tourism businesses continue to struggle, all while hoping that the coming summer will put them on a solid path to recovery. Governor Mills’ announcement today is a big step forward for all of us. MTA looks forward to continuing to work with the Governor and her Administration as we seek to balance public health and economic health.”

Executive Director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau Kerrie Tripp: “We are excited to see the changes coming from the governor’s office today. Travel, tourism, and entertainment have been hit extremely hard during the pandemic and these changes allow us to plan for the future and will hopefully allow more Mainers in our industry to get back to work."

Visit Portland President and CEO Lynn Tillotson: “This is great news for our tourism businesses and the state’s economy. As a destination marketing organization we are incredibly excited to begin promoting Greater Portland and the great state of Maine to visitors.”

Maine Policy Institute CEO Matthew Gagnon: "Maine Policy welcomes the Mills administration refocusing its attention on the state economy and what businesses need to foster a successful tourist season, but it still doesn't add up why the governor is unilaterally making these decisions without the input of the Maine Legislature or the people of Maine.

The governor has wielded unprecedented power in this state for nearly one year, and it’s time the people of Maine dictate the state’s virus response through their elected representatives.

Emergencies don’t last forever. Emergency power exists to allow the chief executive to immediately respond to an imminent threat. It does not exist to allow one person to unilaterally control state government for a year or more.

Maine people deserve a voice in the decisions that impact their lives and livelihoods. No single person was ever meant to wield this much power, and it’s time elected officials in Maine put an end to it.”