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Maine has gradually been lifting its 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors, with travelers from five states — New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — now allowed to come to the state without quarantining or obtaining a negative coronavirus test.
The relaxation of the rules, however, has not come without controversy. Last week, the governor of Massachusetts questioned why his state was left off the list of states that can freely send travelers to Maine. A Boston Globe columnist wrote a facetious piece headlined “We used to be friends, Maine.” Massachusetts allows Maine residents to visit without quarantining.
Looser restrictions on travelers come at the height of the tourism season, with businesses across Maine looking to salvage the summer after losing business due to pandemic-related closures. They also come as Maine has seen coronavirus cases tick slightly upward due to spread among young people. Some southern states are seeing record-breaking outbreaks.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that, when looking at whether to allow travelers into the state, the agency tries to evaluate whether the conditions in each state are “as safe as Maine.”
The primary two metrics to evaluate this, Shah said, are rate of new cases and the positivity rate. For the week beginning June 28, Maine saw shy of 17 new cases per 100,000 people. That is more than Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut saw over the same period, but less than New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
One caveat to using case count numbers to compare the prevalence of the disease in different states is that levels of testing still vary across the U.S. Over the past week, for example, Maine performed just over 14,000 tests, which translates to about 1,050 tests per 100,000 people, while New York performed 2,150 tests per 100,000 people.
The positivity rate helps account for disparate testing rates between states. Generally, a lower positivity rate means the disease is less prevalent. Two of the states that had more new cases than Maine when adjusted for population — New York and New Jersey — also had lower positivity rates, suggesting that their higher case rates may be in part related to more testing.
Using a seven-day moving average, Maine’s positivity rate over the past week was 1.6 percent. Rhode Island saw roughly the same positivity rate as Maine, while New Hampshire’s was slightly higher. Massachusetts had the highest positivity rate in the region over that time, at 2.3 percent, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Shah said Monday that the Maine CDC is continuing to examine data for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, among other states, and could allow travelers from those states or others if the numbers improve.
“The data are changing, and as the data change we want to balance our analysis to match that,” Shah said.