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Two months after issuing an executive order that all out-of-state visitors must quarantine for 14 days or face a misdemeanor charge, Gov. Janet Mills on Monday relaxed restrictions on tourists meant to stop the pandemic spread.
The Keep Maine Healthy plan, effective July 1, allows visitors in lieu of quarantine to sign and submit a certificate of compliance to their lodging facility that they have received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their visit. If they don’t have a negative test result, they must agree to quarantine in Maine for 14 days or show that they already have completed their quarantine in the state. Maine officials have developed a draft form for public comment and will finalize it this week, Mills said.
The plan also will increase symptom checks at sites where visitors tend to go, Mills said Monday during the daily Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention briefing. The plan earmarks $13 million in state funds to help communities implement their own plans to help stop the coronavirus spread.
Visitors may be asked to show their test results if questions arise, Mills said. The certificate will be part of the state’s checklist that lodging facilities must agree to uphold before reopening. Lodging owners are required to keep the certificates for 30 days and keep them available if needed, she said.
“Violating that checklist would be a violation of the executive order that sets up the checklist,” Mills said. “So it will be enforceable and ultimately by potential criminal penalties.” The penalty could be up to six months in jail, she said.
While Mills presented the plan as an effort to stay safe while allowing businesses to operate, not everyone sees it that way. Steve Hewins, president and CEO of the industry group Hospitality Maine, said the testing scheme will deter visitors as much as the quarantine has.
“We believe that it’s impractical to think that visitors go to a testing site and pay up to $150 per person for a result, and we are not confident that the testing capacity or requirements in other states will even allow this for vacations,” he said.
The draft plan was sent to the group last week for comment, and the 125 members who did respond were against testing, Hewins said.
Hewins wishes the governor would trust the industry to use its own training program developed with Eastern Maine Community College, he said.
Vermont and New Hampshire visitors coming to Maine for a short time are exempt from certification. Case counts in those states are low like those in Maine, Mills said.
“As of Friday, June 12, those New Hampshire and Vermont residents will be able to stay in lodging establishments without going through the compliance measures,” Mills said.
She also said the layered approach to opening the state might involve rolling back some sector-specific reopening in a community or in a region to keep people healthy. Earlier Monday, Mills expanded testing in Maine to include testing of high-risk persons without a doctor’s order. The expansion will allow the state to quadruple its weekly testing capacity at the state laboratory starting in July.
The Mills administration has been looking for alternatives to the quarantine for at least one month, including random temperature tests. The news today includes much of the draft plan leaked to several news outlets last Thursday.
Mills’ move comes amid intense pressure to remove the quarantine mandate from business owners who claim it is hurting their bottom line. A number of businesses have filed lawsuits claiming her orders are unconstitutional.
The owners of four restaurants in southern Maine counties still under a shutdown order, but located near rural counties that have already opened dining rooms to customers, filed a lawsuit against Mills on Monday in York County Superior Court, asking a judge to allow them to open immediately.
On May 15, a number of Maine campgrounds sued Mills in U.S. District Court in Portland claiming that her 14-day quarantine is negatively impacting their businesses and that it is unconstitutional. A federal judge refused to lift the ban. The campground owners appealed that decision but again were denied on June 5.
The quarantine has been a sore subject for the tourism industry. On Friday owner Wendyll Caisse told lawmakers that she finally decided to shutter Buck’s Naked BBQ in Windham after buying $16,000 in food to reopen June 1, and then being told the governor had delayed the date.
Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen