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Mass. Gov. 'surprised' over Maine's travel exclusion considering state's promising positivity rate

Mass. Gov. said Thursday he’ll call Gov. Mills for an explanation on why his state is excluded from travel exemptions.

MAINE, USA — Massachusetts and Rhode Island are now the only New England states not exempt from travel quarantine requirements. On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that in addition to New Hampshire and Vermont, travelers coming to Maine from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are exempt from the 14-day quarantine or testing alternative option requirement.

Mills and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said their reasoning relied on epidemiological data and Massachusetts and Rhode Island didn’t “fit the bill” in terms of their COVID-19 data.

Part of their explanation for excluding Massachusetts was that “the positivity rate last week alone was 2.5% still,” however, the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) data shows the 7-day positivity rate percentage hasn’t been 2.5% since June 15.

RELATED: Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey added to list of states exempt from 14-day quarantine and testing alternative

During Thursday’s coronavirus briefing, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker was asked why Maine would have excluded Mass. from the travel exemptions. Baker replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m going to call the governor of Maine today and I’m going to ask her and see what she says.”

Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director of Communications Jackie Farwell, however, said "The underlying epidemiological rationale is that if the average resident is generally as safe as a Maine resident, then by coming to Maine they do not bring an increased risk of COVID-19."

Farwell said the Mills Administration drew on data from a widely used, publically available source, CovidTracking.com, which is used by entities such as Johns Hopkins University as well as large media outlets like the New York Times. In that data, Massachusetts' positivity rate is 2.4%, and Maine's is 2.3%. 

CovidTracking.com data used by Maine:

The official data from Massachusetts reflects different numbers, however.

Baker continued to say he was “surprised” to hear Mills’ announcement given Massachusetts’ positive test rate.

Dr. Shah Tweeted on Thursday that Maine's 7-day positivity rate weighted average is 2%, whereas in Mass., that rate is down to 1.8% as of July 1 according to the Massachusets Department of Public Health. 

"Governor Mills is confident in the assessments done by her public health team, and if Massachusetts would like to further discuss these data, she has no objection to their public health officials talking to ours," Farwell continued. "Meanwhile, Maine will continue to evaluate potential changes based on a comprehensive analysis of public health information."

The Governor's Office did not respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment about Baker's statements that he would be calling Mills for an explanation.

The Maine Tourism Association said Mass. is "critical to Maine's tourism economy."

"While we are pleased to have travel restrictions removed for NY, NJ, and CT, adding MA to that list would be a great—and necessary—step toward helping our businesses survive this year," Alison P. Sucy, Chief Operating Officer, Director of Government Affairs & Communications of the Maine Tourism Association, said. 

Sucy explained that Mass. is Maine's second-biggest market for overnight visitation at 16%, behind New York at 20%. 

The Maine Office of Tourism Annual Visitor Research data breaks down visitation to Maine like this:

Overnight visitation:

  • N.Y.—20%
  • Mass.— 16%
  • Pa.—13%
  • N.J.— 9%
  • Maine, Md., Conn.— each 5%
  • N.H.— 4%
  • R.I.— 3%
  • V.T.— 2%
  • Del., D.C.— 1% each
  • Ontario—9%
  • Quebec—5%
  • New Brunswick— 2%
  • Nova Scotia— 1%

Day visitation numbers:

  • Maine— 35%
  • Mass.— 34%
  • N.H.— 16%
  • New Brunswick— 6%
  • Quebec— 4%
  • V.T.—3%
  • R.I.— 2%

Farwell said, "It is important to note that Massachusetts residents are not prohibited from traveling to Maine, and Maine wants to welcome them, which is why we are providing the testing alternative to the quarantine requirement. We urge Massachusetts to make sure that testing is widely available."

The Governor's Office did not immediately respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment.

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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

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