Facing pressure from the hospitality and tourism industry, the Mills administration announced Thursday that, as of June 1, hotels and other lodging establishments in Maine can begin accepting reservations from residents and out-of-staters who have completed a 14-day quarantine. The change does not technically scrap the quarantine requirement, but it raises more questions about how it will be enforced.
On the surface, Thursday's announcement reverses a rule that barred lodging establishments from accepting new reservations except for essential workers, such as health care workers, or people who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence. That rule was enacted by executive order by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in early April, and it was accompanied by a mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19 from hotspots such as Massachusetts or New York.
"It is not … necessarily the ideal solution," says Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. "What it is, right now, is the current solution and, really, the only solution available from a public health perspective to implement at this moment."
Johnson says the new change may not completely satisfy the hospitality industry, which has been pressing the Mills administration to scrap the 14-day quarantine requirement.
The industry has grown increasingly concerned about the loss of the tourism season, which accounted for $6.5 billion in spending last year — about 10 percent of the state's gross domestic product.
Johnson says more changes could be forthcoming that could ease those worries, such as new safety measures or increased testing.
But Thursday's announcement is likely small comfort to residents already worried that out-of-state visitors are not quarantining when they get here, a requirement that local police say is difficult to enforce. Johnson acknowledged that the change allowing lodging reservations does not make enforcement any easier.
"Yeah, the quarantine at this point is a … self-test, right? We know people want to be safe and want to keep people around them safe and so we're relying on that right now," Johnson said.
Asked if the quarantine basically amounts to an honor system, Johnson paused for a moment before answering: "Yes."
The change allowing lodging reservations comes amid the second consecutive day of spikes in COVID-19 cases, including 38 on Wednesday and 50 on Thursday.
CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said some of those increases are, in part, linked to the four counties experiencing community transmission.
Lodging establishments in all 16 Maine counties will be able to take reservations beginning June 1.