Maine's new plan for out-of-state visitors arriving in the state this summer is being met with questions, support and criticism.
On Monday, Gov. Janet Mills announced she was supplanting the 14-day quarantine for non-essential visitors coming to Maine with a new set of rules based on geography.
Residents of Vermont and New Hampshire are now allowed to cross into the state without quarantining at all and can begin booking hotel rooms in Maine beginning this Friday.
People from elsewhere will still have to quarantine for two weeks unless they plan a visit that begins July 1 or later.
At that point, anyone from outside Maine can come to the state and skip the quarantine if, within 72 hours of arriving in Maine, they go get a COVID-19 test and it comes back negative.
The Mills administration is advising anyone who pursues that option to get that test done prior to travel if possible and believes the plan allows for a balance between opening Maine’s tourism economy more fully and keeping the coronavirus out of the state, which has had relatively few cases of the virus.
The plan is being met with some criticism, notably from Maine’s hospitality industry.
The proposal is nothing like one HospitalityMaine, which represents over 1,000 restaurants and hotels in the state, submitted in April, that would keep people safe through reduced-capacity lodging, according to Steve Hewins, its president and CEO.
Hewins also does not think the Mills administration’s plan will change what he believes is a dire situation for Maine’s tourist dependent businesses, calling it “no better than the quarantine it was slated to replace.”
“We’ve advised the administration daily since [April] that this is not a workable option,” he said.
Already, according to Hewins, tens of thousands of people have canceled trips to Maine since the mandatory visitor quarantine began.
He also believes hotel owners will have concerns about tracking health data of guests, since visitors will have to present proof they don’t have COVID-19 when they check in to lodging. He said HospitalityMaine isn’t sure there are truly enough tests in other states for people who simply want one for a leisure trip to Maine.
“We really question the availability of testing in places like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, places we traditionally draw business from,” he said.
One of the people trying to find out more information about one of those tests on Tuesday was Rich Hornor.
He lives full-time in Massachusetts but had been at his second home in New Harbor for six weeks.
This week, he had gotten his wife a COVID-19 test so she could drive up to stay with him in Maine, then realized that she would still have to quarantine because she is visiting prior to July 1.
According to Hornor, the test was easy to obtain but came at a $160 out-of-pocket cost that he said could make or break a trip for a family.
“If it’s $160 a pop and they’re only coming for a week, that’s $650 for four people,” he said. “I’m concerned about that, I’m hoping there are cheaper options.”
Hornor normally rents his Maine house out to guests, though, many of them cancelled or deferred their rentals this year because of the pandemic.
However, Hornor said he was able to get a disaster business relief loan, has used the extra time to perform maintenance on the property and has generally viewed Maine’s restrictions positively because they’ve been helpful to protect areas of the state with virtually no COVID-19 cases.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Hornor, referring to the Mills administration's new plan, adding that the changes for northern New England will give at least one of his renters from New Hampshire the ability to keep their trip as planned.
“With this new ruling, it will be quite easy for them to come,” he said.
Beyond loosening out-of-state travel restrictions, Maine is also preparing to allow more types of business to open in rural areas.
Bars in towns in Maine’s rural counties, including Bar Harbor, can reopen beginning on Friday.