Maine quarantine order rocks Acadia vacations, life on MDI

UPDATED 6/9/2020: Gov. Janet Mills announced on June 8 a draft “Keep Maine Healthy” plan to provide an alternative to the 14-day Maine quarantine for out-of-state visitors, summary and links to the draft plan below. You can certify you received a negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours before your visit instead of quarantining on-site for 14 days, beginning July 1, according to the draft. Out-of-state day trippers or through travelers from New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt from all quarantine or negative COVID-19 test requirements immediately, and for Maine lodging beginning June 12.

For Deni Farr, who lives in a small town in South Carolina, it’s been an emotional roller coaster to plan an Acadia National Park visit during a Maine quarantine order, with ups and downs that often left her drained and unsettled.

covid-19

Acadia amid COVID-19: Another in a series (NPS photo)

Maine is requiring out of state tourists to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and that is unrealistic for most short-term visitors like Farr. The quarantine is discouraging many and creating uncertainty and new doubts about vacations at Acadia National Park, which opened the Park Loop Road to traffic on June 1.

Last August, Farr and two friends reserved a cottage at Hutchins Cottages at Acadia in Southwest Harbor for a trip in June, but they just canceled those plans on advice of the owner. They now are booked for July when there is a chance the Maine quarantine order will be lifted or eased to allow outdoor activities like Acadia National Park hiking.

Deni Farr, shown while visiting Acadia National Park

Deni Farr with a canine friend, is shown while waiting for the fare-free shuttle Island Explorer during a 2016 visit to Acadia National Park. (Photo courtesy of Deni Farr)

It was upsetting to kill their initial plans, Farr said. All three women basically just want to hike and June would be be perfect for hiking in the only national park in the Northeast, she said.

“It’s been stressful,” said Farr, of Bluffton, South Carolina. “Are we going? Are we not going?”

The women switched car rental and plane tickets a couple of times and wrestled with packing toilet paper, food and spices to cope with the limits of the quarantine. They asked for a rental car with Maine license plates because of reports that some people in Maine are harassing outsiders.

Because people traveling into the state must comply with the Maine quarantine in an executive order by Gov. Janet Mills, Farr and thousands of others are changing or altering their plans for a vacation. The quarantine order, part of the effort to fight the spread of coronavirus, only allows people to leave isolation basically for medical reasons.

Maine governor to present final plan for tourism this week

While Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic Community Development, has conceded that enforcement of the quarantine is effectively based on an honors system, violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine. Lodging operators said it puts them in a dicey position and visitors might be tempted to fib.

The governor and key members of her administration have for weeks been working with tourism and hospitality leaders on alternatives to the quarantine. A final plan to boost tourism is expected next week, according to a statement by Mills on Friday.

maine quarantine

Gov. Janet Mills (Photo courtesy of Maine.gov)

“The best thing we can do for Maine businesses is create a system that will instill a sense of safety and consumer confidence for the public, for staff, and for travelers to want to come here,” wrote Mills.

Maine has some of the lowest virus rates in the nation, but Mills attributed that to the actions taken by the state.

Mills did not provide details in the letter, but NewsCenter Maine, the NBC-TV affiliate for Portland-Auburn/Bangor, reported last week that Mills’s plan would allow tourists to bypass the quarantine if they can verify they had recently tested negative for coronavirus. Lodging operators would need to contact all people with reservations to inform them of the testing requirement, the report said.

A new plan won’t come soon enough for Maine’s hard-hit tourism industry. While the quarantine requirement is tough on tourists, it’s cut visitation to Acadia and been financially traumatic for lodging operators, retail stores and restaurants in Maine.

Cottage owner in Southwest Harbor seeing no business in June

Kristin Hutchins, owner of the Hutchins Cottages at Acadia in Southwest Harbor, told Farr and her friends to cancel their plans to stay at the cottages in June and switch their reservations to July when the quarantine would be less strict.

Kristin Hutchins

Kristin Hutchins, owner of Hutchins Cottages at Acadia, is willing to go to the supermarket and run other errands for guests who comply with a state executive order to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Maine. (Photo courtesy of Kristin Hutchins)

Hutchins, whose family has owned the cottages for 51 years, said that usually half the six cottages are rented in June, but she basically has had “zero business” during the month. Lodging operators, except for those providing for state-approved guests, were closed through May during the pandemic and now are allowed to book guests from out of state if they agree to quarantine.

The Maine quarantine order currently bars guests from visiting public places such as restaurants, stores or supermarkets.  Acadia National Park has aligned itself with state rules during the pandemic and is requiring visitors to the park to first quarantine upon arrival in Maine, too high a bar for most tourists.

Based on guidance from the Maine Tourism Association, Hutchins, also a member of the Board of Selectmen in Southwest Harbor, said the quarantine is scheduled to be modified starting July 1 to allow outdoor activities such as hiking in Acadia National Park during the pandemic.

Visitor bitten by the ‘Acadia love bug’ can’t wait to see park again

Hutchins said most of her guests are attracted by Acadia National Park.

“Hutchins Cottages would probably not exist if it were not for Acadia,” she said.  “Ninety-nine percent of my guests are from outside the state and Acadia is a terrific draw.”

People with summer homes and second homes in the area figured it was safer on Mount Desert Island and arrived earlier this year with their families and complied with the quarantine in their homes, Hutchins said. But short term renters like Farr are scarce.

“The streets and parking are remarkably empty,” Hutchins wrote in a followup email. “And it is weird having my property so quiet with no one on it.”

Deni and Kevin Farr at Acadia National Park in 1993

Deni Farr, left, and her husband, Kevin, on Jordan Pond Path during a 1993 visit to Acadia National Park. The couple used to visit Acadia every year and she has continued the tradition since he died in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Deni Farr)

Farr said Acadia National Park is special to her and she loves all the peaks. She and her husband, Kevin Farr,  were smitten when they first visited the park in 1992.

“I call it the Acadia love bug,” she said. “It bit both our souls. It became part of us.”

They hiked just about everywhere, including Gorham Mountain and Cadillac, Great Head and Jordan Pond. Together for 32 years before his death in 2015, the Farrs visited the park twice a year from 1992 to 1999 including for two weeks every September during their anniversary and in 2003, when they drove up from Florida.

They camped at Blackwoods Campground in the park and held a race between fresh lobsters, where the loser was the first in the pot.

After her husband died, Farr visited by herself during the park’s centennial year in 2016.

Maine quarantine order creates new burdens for business owners

In July, under the current quarantine requirement, a lodging establishment still will have to arrange for take-out, delivery, or grocery services for the visitors, according to the Maine Tourism Association.

During July, Hutchins said, she is planning to shop for food at the supermarket for guests, pick up lobster at the local market, handle any orders for takeout from restaurants and do other errands.

“It will be a lot of work, but if it is the difference between having something and nothing…suck it up and do it,” she said.

Hutchins is facing other demands during the pandemic.

She also drives for the private, nonprofit Tremont Ambulance Service, which goes mostly to Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor. She said she is moved and grateful for the EMTs who staff the service and put themselves in harm’s way every day.

During the pandemic, the ambulance service requires much more personal protection equipment, sanitation and maintenance, she said.

Secret ballots for Maine town meetings and other impacts on locals

Hutchins said the town of Southwest Harbor is also considering how to hold a town meeting, which ordinarily would have convened the first Monday in May. Under a June 3 executive order by the governor, a 50-person cap is kept for public gatherings, but municipal officials have the authority to hold secret ballot elections instead of a public town meeting, according to the Maine Municipal Association.

Acadia National Park rangers are wearing masks to provide information to visitors during the pandemic

An Acadia National Park ranger is wearing a mask and standing behind a shield while providing information in an open-air tent outside the closed Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Acadia opened on June 1. (NPS photo)

Hutchins said it saddens her that one of the oldest traditions in New England – the annual open town meeting – could turn into a secret ballot.

Acadia opened the spectacular Park Loop Road, including the summit to Cadillac Mountain, to traffic on June 1, but it’s been a slow June so far compared to some past years, with the park still largely limited to Maine residents.

Outside near the closed Hulls Cove Visitor Center, rangers wear masks and stand behind shielded tables to provide information.

Locals have mixed feelings about the park’s opening.

Former park ranger Maureen Fournier said she drove to the top of Cadillac with hardly another car on the road, hiked without fighting crowds and walked and cycled the Park Loop Road before it opened to traffic. Fournier and her husband, Gerry, who have lived 10 years year-round on Mount Desert Island after being seasonal residents for five years, said she has experienced the park and observed Acadia in ways she never could before.

“But we miss our visitors.  We miss sharing the beauty of Acadia National Park.  The season just doesn’t feel the same,” she said.

Parking on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Maureen Fournier said it was unbelievable that her car was the only one parked at the summit of Cadillac Mountain at 10 am on June 3 in Acadia National Park. The park, which opened June 1, is experiencing a quiet June after adopting a tough state requirement that all visitors must quarantine for 14 days after traveling to Maine. (Photo by Maureen Fournier)

 

Brown Mountain Gatehouse parking

June has been so uncommonly slow at Acadia National Park that Maureen and Gerry Fournier were the only people parked at the Brown Mountain Gatehouse on June 5 when the carriage roads opened for the first time this year, only for hikers, not bicyclists or equestrians. (Photo by Maureen Fournier)

Maine plans to allow negative COVID-19 test instead of quarantine

Under Gov. Janet Mills’s draft “Keep Maine Healthy” plan, announced June 8, most out-of-state visitors can certify they got a negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours before arriving in Maine, instead of following the 14-day quarantine-in-place order, beginning July 1. Out-of-state day trippers from New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt immediately from either the test or quarantine requirements, and beginning June 12 for Maine lodging.

For details of the plan: https://www.maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine/keepmainehealthy/

For FAQs about the plan: https://www.maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine/keepmainehealthy/faqs

For a copy of the draft certificate of compliance:  https://www.maine.gov/decd/sites/maine.gov.decd/files/inline-files/DRAFT_ME_Certificate_Compliance_Form_6-8-20.pdf

10 thoughts on “Maine quarantine order rocks Acadia vacations, life on MDI

  1. Jane

    Our family is planning to come on July 9. We are frantically searching for a testing facility that will give us results in basically one day in order to me the 72 hr requirement. Most responses we have gotten is, “that test is a snapshot of your health in that moment. You could contract it the next day after testing negative while you are traveling to ME.” So far we have been unsuccessful locating a testing facility with that quick turn around so I’m afraid our trip will be cancelled.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for this comment, Jane. As you point out, it is a difficult logistical challenge to get tested negative for Covid-19 within 3 days of arriving in Maine, or to get tested on arrival. It is also difficult to obtain results on line, especially if the testing site is not in your network of providers. And it could cost money to get a test. You also cited some other doubts about the test. You do have the option of quarantining in your room for 14 days. This means you cannot leave for restaurants, shops or supermarket but you could go to Acadia and hike in areas that are not crowded. This arrangement might work for some travelers, since lodging operators would most likely be pleased to handle takeout and supermarket for food, but probably not for most visitors.

      Reply
  2. Linda

    I can’t help but think how foolish it looks for someone outside in fresh air wearing a mask. Makes no sense . Breathing in their own CO 2

    Reply
  3. Doris

    Article fails to mention that in July the quarantine still stands yet only has to be for the duration of the stay. 3 nights? 3 days of quarantine. And visitors can still go swimming, hiking and walks.

    Reply
  4. JAMES LINNANE

    I think what motivated the quarantine in the first place was a fear that the minimal health care resources of small rural areas favored by visitors would be overwhelmed were community transmission of the virus to occur. As I understand it, many carriers of the virus show no symptoms. Would be visitors should appreciate that Acadia is a natural area set aside for the enjoyment of future generations and it will still be there when they are able to pay a visit. Also they should understand that most local residents do miss them and will happily welcome them back when it is safe to do so.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Good points, Jim. We made the point about the need to protect rural hospitals and providers in our prior article “Acadia National Park during the pandemic: Masks, isolation,” and the fears about overloading the system in Maine. We agree on that issue. On the other hand, the quarantine is not ideal and is stronger than some other New England states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where you do not see the intense and overwhelming tourism industry opposition to a quarantine as you do in Maine. We would add that testing might also work. It is a swab held for 10 seconds or so in a nostril and there is no pain, according to people we’ve interviewed, and it can be a drive up service under an outside tent at some providers. Maybe the state of Maine can make testing easily available for out of state visitors. For some reasons, many people don’t want to take the test, even some people in the health care field if they have no symptoms. We are grateful to receive your comment, Jim.

      Reply
  5. Rick Allen

    What angers and frustrates me is that the quarantine is 100% focused on keeping the virus out of the state. There was a need for this earlier when it was peeking and people started fleeing hard hit areas, likely bringing it with them. Now the new rates are declining sharply while Maine has had some of the lowest per capita testing in the entire country, dead last according to one source. People who have not been following guidelines in the Portland area can do what they want, while people like myself that have been strictly following the guidelines in suburban Massachusetts since March need to quarantine for 14 days. After I complete quarantine I will been more at risk from Mainer than I have been over the past 3 months given how strict my family has been. It is a flawed policy and a false sense of security based on focusing attention on outta staters.

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Rick. You do point out one glaring flaw in the Maine quarantine order. If you live in a small town in New Hampshire or Vermont, for example, your rates are almost definitely lower than Portland or other cities in Maine. Yet, the small town resident in New Hampshire or Vermont needs to quarantine in Maine and the resident from the Maine city can travel with impunity.

      Reply
    2. Lindsey

      Agreed. There’s no way of knowing for sure that anyone has truly quarantined and it’s essentially an “honor system” rule being made. The reason for the low numbers/positive tests have been because of so many areas here in Maine being extremely rural. That seems obvious to me.

      Reply
  6. Hoot B

    I know this quarantine has killed the season but i must tell you that it’s is why Covid 19 HAS NOT killed a large amount of your population. Why people can’t understand that is beyond my reasoning. It’s simple science. This is a serious virus that’s is way beyond the flu. You not only can die but it’s long term affects are life altering ones. Please realize this, coming from a Floridian, who has watched the statistics go up Immensely since we “opened” up. 1000 new cases per day!

    Reply

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