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The Mills administration is circulating a proposal to allow tourists to skip Maine’s 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors if they can provide recent negative COVID-19 test results. The administration expects to finalize the plan as early as the end of this week, according to the draft plan sent by a hotel owner to the Bangor Daily News.
The draft plan, titled KeepMEHealthy, also calls for state and local authorities as well as businesses to check travelers’ symptoms and earmarks $13 million in state funds to help communities implement their own plans to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition it proposes that the Maine Department of Public Safety — which includes the Maine State Police — conduct symptom checks “during routine traffic violation stops and spot checks.”
“The State of Maine is putting forward the following proposed plan for consideration by stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industries, by lawmakers, by the general public, and others who are interested to offer feedback,” the draft plan said. “It is the Administration’s goal to take into consideration this feedback and to finalize the plan as early as the end of this week so that implementation plans may be solidified before the summer months are further upon us.“
The draft plan was sent to the Maine Tourism Association, an industry trade group, late Monday afternoon, said CEO Tony Cameron. While Cameron praised the administration’s efforts to find alternatives for the 14-day quarantine requirement, he had questions about whether the plan could work for members of the industry, particularly hotels and lodging establishments.
Overwhelmingly, members “don’t feel that this is a workable solution,” Cameron said. “It’s putting a lot of pressure on lodging establishments to police compliance, which is incredibly tough.”
While the draft plan said the state will issue further guidance on details such as how long a negative test would allow a visitor to skip the quarantine requirement, workers at hotels and other lodgings would be responsible for checking test results.
Workers at these establishments would have to ensure “people arriving from other states show documentation of a negative COVID-19 test upon check-in,” the draft plan states. Likewise, the plan said that reservations will be required at Maine lodgings this summer and that “the need for a negative test result will be clearly stated” during the reservation process.
“Establishments that already have taken reservations must communicate this new requirement for check-in prior to arrival of the out-of-state resident,” according to the draft plan.
The state is also looking at using an app that would allow visitors to provide documentation of negative tests prior to arrival. That app could then be shown at check-in to “reduce the work at the reception and increase privacy protections,” according to the draft plan.
Visitors to Maine will be “strongly encouraged” to get tested in their home state before coming to Maine, according to the draft plan, which noted that “Maine’s testing capacity has been largely built for its year-round residents.”
Cameron wondered what would happen if the visitors refused to comply with the proposed requirements. “Is it really going to be the businesses’ responsibility to get into a confrontation with those individuals?” he asked.
Cameron and other members of the hospitality industry also worry the current 14-day quarantine could decimate businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, that depend on an influx of tourists to the state in the summer and early fall. Last week, a federal judge upheld the 14-day quarantine order after business owners in southern Maine challenged it in federal court.
In 2018, 37 million people traveled to Maine, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. The state has a population of 1.3 million.
The draft plan notes that Maine is one of 26 states that have put in place some form of quarantine for out-of-state visitors and that “to date, no state has identified an alternative to quarantine for tourists.” It also notes that the state is seeking to protect Mainers “in the face of a potential influx of millions of visitors, many of whom are likely to travel from COVID-19 hot spots such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.”
The plan under consideration would leave the current 14-day quarantine in place for nonessential out-of-state visitors, including Maine residents returning to the state, but it would allow visitors to skip the quarantine if they can show documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test result.
The test result will indicate that “despite coming from areas with a higher prevalence of the disease than Maine’s, such individuals are unlikely to have COVID-19 and to spread it to Maine residents and other visitors,” according to the draft plan.
The draft plan also calls for local and state authorities to conduct “symptom checks,” which it describes as “several simple questions that revolve around symptoms, travel and close contacts” and can also include temperature checks.
Symptom checks have been included in reopening checklists provided to businesses. The draft plan also said that “high-density” businesses, such as museums and retailers, will “be encouraged to use symptom checks.”
In addition to the Department of Public Safety symptom checks, the draft plan proposes the Maine Department of Transportation would conduct symptom checks at state ferry entrances, and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry would conduct symptom checks at the entrances of state parks.
The plan does not explain what would happen if someone, either a resident or a visitor, “failed” a symptom check. Questions related to symptom checks were not immediately answered by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
The draft plan also proposes using a pool of $13 million for municipalities to develop their own COVID-19 prevention and protection plans. To earn state funding, towns might plan public education activities, physical distancing measures (including fences and new traffic patterns), symptom checks at key locations, and “education and compliance checks,” according to the draft plan.
Those checks could include code enforcement, law enforcement or local health officers vetting complaints of “unsafe public health activity” and either helping to fix the complaint or referring matters to state and local enforcement.