May 14, 2020
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Am I allowed to go grocery shopping while under quarantine, and other answers to your questions

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Tourists in Bar Harbor take pictures of the cruise ship AIDA Bella anchored offshore in this October 2013 photo.

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Travelers returning to Maine are required to self-quarantine for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, a policy that has irked some in the state’s tourism industry.

The rule has also been marred by confusion about where individuals who are quarantining can stay, and what they can and can’t do. Here are the answers to some of the commonly asked questions about the quarantine requirement.

If I’m in self-quarantine after traveling, can I go to the grocery store?

No. The executive order from Gov. Janet Mills, issued April 3, says the quarantine requirement excludes individuals “engaging in essential services.” But guidelines from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that carveout is fairly narrow, applying to people in essential jobs, such as health care workers, but not travelers who want to go to the grocery store.

While grocery shopping is an essential activity, the intent of the order was to prevent travelers from going into public places such as grocery stores, said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Instead, the CDC recommends that travelers bring sufficient food to Maine with them to avoid having to make a grocery run, or arrange for food delivery. The exception to this rule is that individuals can go to the hospital if they are ill.

Can I book a hotel room or Airbnb in Maine for two weeks in order to quarantine?

No. Visitors cannot pass their quarantine time at a hotel, short-term rental, campground or other lodging establishment.

Campgrounds in parts of the state without community transmission will be permitted to open on May 18, while more lodging establishments are set to open on June 1. But bookings at those establishments are still only for individuals who have completed the 14-day quarantine.

While completing the quarantine, travelers have to stay at a personal residence, though there is some room for variance. For instance, travelers who use their campsite or motor home as a second home are permitted to move into their campsite and quarantine there, said Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long. Out-of-state visitors who are staying in Maine for fewer than 14 days would need to quarantine for the entirety of their stay.

Who is excluded from the travel quarantine?

There are a few exceptions to the quarantine rule, including health care workers and individuals who go to a job in New Hampshire. Individuals who make short trips across the border for work, grocery shopping or a doctor’s visit are not required to quarantine upon returning home.

Health care workers who come into Maine also do not have to quarantine for the full 14 days. According to CDC guidelines, they can go to work assuming they are not experiencing symptoms. But even health care workers should follow self-quarantine guidelines when they are not going to or from work, the guidelines say.

Can I quarantine for 14 days somewhere else, and then come to Maine?

No. As the executive order is currently written, travelers must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Maine regardless of what they were doing before. Staying home in another state does not get you out of the quarantine requirement here.

What is the difference between self-quarantine and self-isolation?

Self-quarantine, which is required for travelers, is not as restrictive as self-isolation, which is required for people known to have coronavirus, or those who have been exposed to it and are experiencing symptoms.

Under self-isolation, individuals are instructed to avoid interaction with members of their household — for instance, by staying in separate rooms. A person who is under self-quarantine can still interact with family members, though CDC guidelines suggest avoiding contact with anyone who is at risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

When will the travel quarantine no longer be required?

There is no official end date for the quarantine for travelers yet, although the state has indicated it is exploring other options. Mills’ initial reopening plan indicated that the quarantine order for travelers might not be lifted until September. That received significant pushback from the hospitality industry, with many hotels saying their businesses were likely to go under without summer tourism.

In 2019, nearly 29 million tourists visited Maine between May and August, with an average length of stay of 3.8 nights, according to the state tourism office.

Maine is one of more than a dozen states that still has a mandatory quarantine for all travelers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Two states have lifted similar requirements, while a few have rolled them back to restrict only travelers from certain hard-hit states.

Mass testing of visitors has been raised as one alternative to the 14-day quarantine. But, even with recent increases in capacity, Maine is currently well short of what would be needed to test a significant portion of tourists.

BDN writer Lori Valigra contributed to this report.

Watch: Drug to treat coronavirus coming to Maine


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