Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced an economic reopening plan allowing more people to travel to Maine without COVID-19 tests or quarantine and relaxing capacity limits on stores and other venues while keeping safety protocols in place.
The announcement, which comes a week before the one-year anniversary of the first presumptive case of the virus in Maine, aims to boost Maine’s economy during the busy spring and summer tourism season, the governor said. Last year, the virus shut down key parts of the 2020 tourism season, with restaurants and hotels taking the brunt of the financial losses.
In a news conference on Friday, Mills said the plan gives businesses “a clear idea of what to expect” ahead of the tourism season. While she said Maine has seen one of the lowest case and death rates in the U.S., new variants taking hold or increases in cases in Maine or other states could cause the plan to be “dialed down.”
“Of course, it’s not over yet,” Mills said of the pandemic.
Starting immediately, the governor will allow people from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to visit the state without quarantine. New Hampshire and Vermont residents already are on the state’s quarantine-exemption list. People from other areas who are fully vaccinated also will be allowed to visit.
On May 1, the state will move to a system where all Americans can travel to Maine without quarantine. However, it will put certain states with high numbers of cases on an exclusionary list. That’s a change from the current system of putting states on a quarantine-exemption list.
The governor also will allow higher capacity limits by changing to a percentage of capacity model that will apply to all sectors of the economy rather than the current limits based on square footage, for example. Indoor capacities will be increased to 50 percent later this month and 75 percent before Memorial Day.
However, all businesses that will be able operate at a higher capacity must still adhere to safety protocols, including wearing masks and distancing restaurant tables. They will functionally constrain capacity in many places.
Outdoor capacity for all venues, including sporting and other types of events, will increase to 75 percent later this month and to 100 percent before Memorial Day. Mills also said bars and taprooms, which have operated only with outdoor seating or takeout for months, can reopen indoors on March 26.
Mills’ move follows Vermont lifting its quarantine requirement for vaccinated people last week and Massachusetts lifting restaurant capacity limits this week. Texas and Mississippi scrapped limits and mask mandates this week, and Alabama will lift its mask mandate in April, moves that led to criticism from President Joe Biden.
The economic limits at times have been politically fraught. Minority Republicans in the Legislature have advocated for stripping the governor’s emergency powers and the state has faced lawsuits over the rules. But the Friday changes were hailed by tourism and retail industry groups that have been asking for a more certain kickoff to the warm-weather season.
Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, said uncertainty about the future has been one of the most significant challenges for the industry throughout the pandemic.
“A clear understanding of what the travel guidelines are and what capacity limitations will be heading into spring and summer is tremendously helpful,” he said in a statement.