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On Saturday afternoon, downtown Camden featured plenty of parking, lots of room on the sidewalks and Maine license plates out-numbering, by far, those from out of state.
But at least some of the tourists who did venture north for Memorial Day Weekend were not following Gov. Janet Mills’ order mandating a 14-day quarantine period. The order is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
One visitor, Cindy Brinkhaus, from the Boston area, came to Maine with her family for the holiday weekend. On Saturday, they climbed Mount Battie and then drove to downtown Camden, where they piled out of the car and onto the sidewalk without wearing masks.
“We saw it,” she replied, briefly, when asked whether she knew about the quarantine order. “It’s a good idea.”
A hundred miles south, at the Kennebunk rest stop, out-of-state tourists on Friday told WGME-13 that while they also thought the quarantine made sense, none expected to follow the mandate exactly.
Some travelers said they would make sure to keep a social distance from others, including Frank Gherling of New York. He told WGME he works for a small engineering firm, and out of the 18 employees, seven got sick this spring.
“I’m not going to be doing a lot of bopping around,” he said.
As the holiday weekend began unfolding, this piecemeal approach to quarantine on the part of tourists seemed common. But that didn’t make it any less frustrating to Mainers who are trying to keep themselves and their families safe while still welcoming visitors, a critical part of the state’s economy.
One of those is Amy Kunzinger, who was working behind a plexiglas window at Glendarragh Farm Lavender in Camden. The Appleton woman lives with her sister, who has cystic fibrosis, and said she would like to see more people quarantining, wearing masks and social distancing.
“I feel like a lot of the tourists don’t have concern for the small community we live in,” she said. “I’m glad we can all be open. But it’s just concerning.”
The day before, at a different establishment, she had seen a man respond rudely when he was asked to step farther away from another person.
“Even if you don’t agree with everything, you can respect people’s boundaries,” she said.
That’s what one would-be tourist wants to do. Susie Walsh, who lives in the greater Boston area and has long-standing connections to Maine, would like to come to the midcoast with her family for two weeks this summer.
“But the two-week quarantine would make it ridiculous to come,” she said.
If they come anyway, they would try to keep to themselves and not go out to restaurants or busy places.
“But we don’t want to stay in the house the whole time,” Walsh said. “We’re worried that things will be closed. We also have trepidation of not being accepted by locals because we’re from out of state.”
She gets that. She doesn’t fault anyone from trying to keep their community safe.
“If it’s something that Maine doesn’t want, I would totally honor that,” Walsh said. “But we just get such mixed messages … I really don’t know what to do.”
While some tourists did come to Maine over the weekend, the Maine Turnpike Authority predicted a sharp reduction in Memorial Day Weekend traffic because of the pandemic. Typically, the weekend is one of the busiest of the summer, but in the last couple of weeks, traffic has been about 70 percent of what it was a year ago. Last month, traffic on the turnpike was reduced by more than half.
It has been 20 years since the state has seen such low traffic numbers. In 2000, there were 63 million transactions on the turnpike for the year. In 2019, that had climbed to 90 million.
“We are beginning to see traffic come back,” Peter Mills, the executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said Friday in a press release. “We’ve seen incremental increases in weekday traffic already and with a sunny forecast everywhere in Maine this weekend, we suspect there will be more people on the road than we’ve seen since the outbreak began.”
According to the authority, most of that traffic will be generated by Maine people anxious to get out for day trips. Traffic from Canada is blocked by border closures and traffic from other states likely will remain reduced, officials said.
The traffic, and tourist, slowdown has made for a challenging start to the summer season for Maine’s business people. Meg Quijano, the owner of the Smiling Cow gift shop in Camden, said that there’s been nothing typical about Memorial Day Weekend this year.
“On Memorial Day, the store would be jam-packed with people,” she said. “It’s definitely not that this year.”
Still, she thinks the quarantine must happen.
“It’s very conflicting,” she said. “As much as you want to do a good business, the primary concern is the safety of people.”
For some out-of-staters, quarantining in Maine will still be a nice change. Greg Purinton-Brown of Toddy Pond Farm in Monroe rents a cottage on his family’s farm to summer guests.
“We’re getting tons of interest,” he said Friday. “For the first time, we have a waitlist.”
He has told all of the people who want to spend a week at the cottage that they will have to stay there, unless the state changes the guidelines. That hasn’t been a problem, Purinton-Brown said. In fact, one woman from Delaware told him that she was looking forward to it.
“She said, ‘Being quarantined on the farm, with the pond and the kayaks, and now you’re selling wine at the farm store, what more do I need?’” Purinton-Brown said. “Based on the numbers of emails and calls that we’re getting, people from other states just want to get away.”
Watch: Who can make reservations at Maine hotels next month?