Gov. Janet Mills said Maine is lifting quarantine and testing requirements for visitors from three other northeastern states.
At a coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Mills said beginning Friday, the administration will allow Connecticut, New York and New Jersey residents to visit Maine without having to quarantine or provide a negative COVID-19 test result, something New Hampshire and Vermont residents are already allowed to do.
Mills said the move "allows visitors to come to Maine and support our businesses." She said the requirements were lifted for the five states because "the prevalence of active cases of COVID is still similar to Maine's metric."
One of those data points is the positivity rate - the rate of people tested who test positive for the virus. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Maine's cumulative positivity rate is 3.85%, a rate Mills said was the seventh lowest in the nation.
“The premise of our approach is to look for states where the residents are as safe as those in Maine," said Shah. "The epidemiological reason for that is if the average resident of one of those states is as safe as a resident of Maine, they don't bring an increased risk of bringing COVID-19 with them.”
Shah and Mills told reporters that Masshachusetts and Rhode Island aren't included in the new exemptions because their numbers are not low enough. In terms of infection rates per 100,000 people, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey at similar levels to Maine. But some parts of those states have much higher rates, according to the John's Hopkins University Coronavirus map. Officials say they considered several metrics when making this decision.
To keep the positivity rate down, Mills said she is issuing an executive order requiring businesses in Maine's coastal counties and most populated cities to enforce the state's face covering requirements.
"What many people have suggested is simply signage that will tell customers 'no shoes, no shirt, no mask no service'. It's as simple as that," said Mills. "And it means that Maine and Maine business owners and their employees mean business when it comes to public health. It's a simple measure. I don't think we're asking too much."
The order comes as the Maine CDC reports another 41 cases of COVID-19, bringing the number diagnosed among Mainers since the pandemic's onset to 3,294. The death tally remained unchanged at 105.
Shah said the CDC is following three outbreaks in Maine, one at a Landry-French construction site at Abbott Labs in Scarborough, where 36 people have tested positive, and three cases at Bath Iron Works. Shah said the CDC has identified 58 close contacts of those three BIW workers, and is working with the company and BIW's largest union to provide testing and other help.
Shah said the state is also retesting all staff at Sedgewood Commons in Falmouth, and residents will be retested Thursday. The number of known cases at the facility currently stands at 33, Shah said.
Mills said Maine could reconsider its loosening of visitor requirements and other reopening policies if cases begin to surge again. Other than the five exempted Northeastern states, all visitors to Maine will have to certify that they have tested negative for COVID-19, or quarantine for 14 days.
Mills said visitors should get tested in their home states, but "as a last resort" they can get tested in Maine, "but you'll have to quarantine while awaiting for results."
Most of the 41 new cases diagnosed were discovered in Cumberland and York counties. Meanwhile, another 25 people have recovered from the virus, the CDC reports, bringing the total number of recoveries to 2,671. That leaves 518 active cases in the state.
The number of people who have had to be hospitalized at some point during their illness rose by three, to 351. Twenty-nine people are currently hospitalized, Shah said, eight of them in intensive care. Three people are on ventilators.
Shah said the CDC is not planning a briefing Friday because of the upcoming Independence Day holiday.
Fred Bever and Nora Flaherty contributed to this report.
Updated 4:47 p.m. ET July 1, 2020.
Originally published 10:39 a.m. ET July 1, 2020.