As we approach the Fourth of July weekend, the state is already seeing an influx of visitors, and Gov. Janet Mills says she wants them all to know the guidelines they must follow in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As Mills told Maine Calling’s Jennifer Rooks, visitors from states other than Vermont and New Hampshire have a responsibility to either be tested before or shortly after they get here, or quarantine for two weeks upon arrival — and she says if a surge in cases occurs this summer, the state could choose to reimpose restrictions on certain activities.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Click here for the entire conversation.
Mills: Resetting the restrictions is one of the potential acts. Licensing is another potential avenue of remedying a situation. If a particular activity or particular entity is not complying with the checklist, we can move to take their license if they have a business license in Maine or in a city or town where they operate. But we’re looking for first and foremost for voluntary compliance.
Rooks: We are in the middle of what is traditionally Maine’s tourism season. We’re hearing from people that there doesn’t seem to be enforcement, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of people following the rules. A friend of mine drove to New Hampshire and back this morning and only saw two signs — one was kind of obscured, so the rules aren’t really boldly out there, easy to read. Another friend in Boothbay Harbor this past weekend says there were lots and lots of out-of-state plates. How can Maine people feel confident that those people with out-of-state plates came in with a negative COVID-19 test or have been quarantining?
Mills: I think we’re trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ll do the best we can and, frankly, there is only so much we can do. But I think the public in general knows what the rules are. We’ve tried to keep them fairly simple, unlike some other states where you’re dictating restrictions based on the county that you come from, and the varying and ever changing positivity rates of that particular county. We just say, ‘Hey look, New Hampshire and Vermont, their case loads and rates are pretty similar to Maine’s. They’re not high-intensity states.’ But the other states people come from have been really high-incidence states, most of them if not all of them higher than Maine’s, and so we want to make sure that people coming here either quarantine for 14 days once they get here, or have a negative test taken within 72 hours before they get here. If for some reason they can’t possibly get a test before they get here, then get one when you get here. Test availability is increasing day by day.
Rooks: I have actually heard anecdotally from several people that they want to do the right thing, they want to get a test either before they come to Maine or right when they come to Maine, or because they’re traveling in the other direction. And unless they fib and they tell their doctor that they’re feeling symptoms, they’re not able to get that test.
Mills: Yeah, I’ve heard that anecdotally, as well. Just this morning, somebody emailed me from Farmington and said that Franklin Memorial Hospital wouldn’t do a test of this individual even though they’re going to be traveling and they feel they’re in a high-risk category because they’re in sales. Well, I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that our standing order that was issued a couple weeks ago applies to people who are at risk not just because they have symptoms. It’s not limited to people who have symptoms — that would almost be too little, too late in a sense. So our standing order, and our stand up of tests and commercial tests across the state of Maine — some of which are federally funded — applies to anyone who is, for instance, in the health care profession, a first responder, people who are in public facing positions, that kind of thing, or people who are traveling to and from other states with higher incidence of COVID-19 cases. That standing order may be misunderstood, and we’ll make sure that it gets understood to be liberally construed and liberally used.
I’m in favor of as much testing as possible. There is a pharmacy on Forest Avenue that just opened up its testing and I believe that it is free and open to anybody. There are testing facilities standing up all across the state of Maine every day and we’re going to make sure we get the word out that it should be widely used and people should be able to get tested easily. I’ve been talking to the governors of New Hampshire and Vermont — they’ve got even greater testing capacity, commercial testing capacity. They can’t get people to get tested. People don’t want to get tested. Now here in Maine we’re hearing people who want to get tested and can’t. I want to make sure we rectify that situation.