Update: In an important boost for the struggling hospitality industry in Bar Harbor, the Maine governor on July 1 exempted residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from restrictions that require people traveling into Maine to either quarantine or test negative for the virus. The governor noted that the prevalence of the virus in these three states is similar to Maine and continues a downward trend. Starting July 3, residents of NY, NJ and the Nutmeg state join New Hampshire and Vermont residents, who were previously exempt from the travel restrictions.
A leading business group says Bar Harbor faces a “catastrophic closing of businesses” and a tourism season that is “all but lost” after a spate of new lodging cancellations caused by the Maine quarantine order and other tough new restrictions on out-of-state visitors this summer.
Starting June 26, according to the executive order issued by Maine Gov. Janet Mills last week, people who travel into Maine and check into Maine lodging, campgrounds, seasonal rentals or Airbnbs will be asked to sign a certificate of compliance saying that they tested negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival, will quarantine in Maine for 14 days on arrival, or that they have already completed their quarantine in Maine. A final certificate of compliance was released on June 12.
The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted unanimously in opposition to Gov. Janet Mills’s new “Keep Maine Healthy” plan. The chamber asked Mills to reconsider, saying her plan is unworkable and too onerous for most visitors to comply.
“With each new update to the requirements for visitors, our lodging establishments receive an influx of cancellations,” wrote Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, in a message sent to the 420 members of the chamber after the board vote. “Guests who are waiting for news that they will be allowed to travel to Maine without burdensome restrictions are forced to give up hope and cancel their existing reservations.”
Because of its more remote location on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor has an economy that depends on overnight guests including many coming to visit nearby Acadia National Park.
Acadia opened some services like the Park Loop Road on June 1 to kick off a season that is expected to see lower visitation because of the Maine quarantine order.
Campgrounds at Acadia remain closed until at least July 1 and the operation of the Island Explorer, the park’s fare-free shuttle system, which usually starts June 23, is indefinitely postponed.
Two aspects of park operations are affected by Keep Maine Healthy. First, a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors is still in effect, the park says. Second, is that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited through August.
“The website is being worked on since the information about quarantining is a bit more nuanced now,” Christie Anastasia, public affairs specialist at Acadia, wrote in an email. “We are doing our part in helping the state of Maine share information related to COVID-19.”
Maine quarantine order spurs new round of lodging cancellations
Mills’s new plan for tourism, released on Monday, sparked new cancellations for bookings in Bar Harbor this summer and Acadia during the Maine quarantine order.
“With yesterday’s announcement from Governor Mills, there was another round of lodging cancellations and we have now reached a point where our season is all but lost,” Anderson wrote to members. “We are in dire need of immediate action to avoid a catastrophic closing of businesses.”
Many people are commenting on the Acadia National Parking Hiking public group Facebook page, with about a dozen in the past week saying they are canceling or considering canceling trips to Acadia because of the governor’s travel restrictions.
Mills’s order is similar to travel mandates in Alaska and Hawaii, but more confining than some other New England states and many other states with travel restrictions, according to an analysis of a list of coronavirus-related restrictions in every state by the AARP and list of state travel restrictions by Ballotpedia.
The Maine quarantine order is also facing a loud outcry from Maine tourism and hospitality businesses. In neighboring New Hampshire, by contrast, there was little criticism of a lower-level quarantine ordered by the governor of the Granite State.
In Massachusetts, the self-quarantine is guidance, and in New Hampshire, hotels could start taking reservations on June 5, but visitors from other states must attest that they have remained in their home, even if in another state, for the prior 14 days.
The Vermont governor relaxed travel restrictions effective June 8, allowing people in mostly rural counties in New England and upstate New York to visit Vermont with no self-quarantine.
Visits to drop this summer during Maine quarantine order
Starting June 12, New Hampshire and Vermont residents were exempt from travel restrictions in Maine.
The Maine governor’s order targets states that have sent a higher percent of visitors to Acadia National Park such as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.
There is no end date for Mills’s plan.
In her executive order, Mills noted that visits to Maine from residents of other states are expected to plummet this summer, from 22 million last year to at least 7 to 10 million this year, but even the lower numbers still pose a significant threat to public health. She said that half of visitors would come from states with per capita COVID-19 case rates that are eight to eleven times higher than that of Maine.
Mills also said that testing is more widely available in Maine since she first issued her 14-day quarantine order on April 3.
Visitors still would need to possibly pay for a swab test and maybe face a logistical struggle in attempting to schedule the test, and get results, within 72 hours of traveling into Maine.
Bar Harbor sees sharp decline in parking meter revenues
The Bar Harbor Town Council also weighed in with a letter to Mills, citing possible privacy issues if a traveler submits test results to a hotel clerk and sharp reductions in municipal parking revenues and spending at local businesses
The letter came after the council voted unanimously to ask the governor to eliminate the 14-day quarantine and take other steps.
In the letter to Mills, the council cited some steep drops in spending at local businesses – and the town’s parking receipts. The quarantine is particularly devastating to businesses and unreasonable for travelers, who would have to isolate and stay away from public places, except for medical appointments.
“We have heard from many businesses that their revenues are down by 90 percent compared to last year and that is backed up by the town’s parking revenue, which is also down 90 percent,” said the letter signed by Jeff Dobbs, chair of the Bar Harbor Town Council, on June 3.
Revenues from meters, kiosks and pay-by-phone customers parking in paid parking spaces in Bar Harbor during the 2019 season was $1.663 million, or more than twice the amount of revenue projected in earlier studies. Seasonal paid public parking downtown began last year in Bar Harbor.
The council’s letter said the centerpiece of Keep Maine Healthy was impractical. “That would require millions of COVID-19 tests in a very short period of time and most CVS and Walgreens perform 50 tests per day. Additionally, the visitor testing creates customer privacy issues where the hotel clerk would be responsible for customer medical information.”
Anderson, of the Bar Harbor chamber, told members that he shared the chamber’s view in a letter to Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
Businesses support testing of certain employees and other options
Anderson and the town council’s letter also suggested an alternative by the Downeast COVID-19 Task Force which has a plan that focuses on community and customer-facing employee testing rather than visitor testing or quarantining.
“This method would remove the burden of visitors getting tested and offer a clear way to monitor the health of our community,” Anderson wrote.
Mills’s executive order of June 9 delegates her wide emergency powers, including those to control people who enter and leave the state and those who occupy premises in the state of Maine.
The order gives broad authority to enforce the law to any government official that licenses or permits lodging operations or campgrounds.
Lodging establishments, campgrounds, rentals, and other short-term rentals must inform guests of the Maine quarantine order or testing requirement and are encouraged to send copies of the certificate of compliance to guests before arrival.
Maine is strongly urging visitors to “Know Before You Go,” meaning they should get tested and receive their test results in their home state before traveling to Maine, according to a press release from Mills. Individuals may be tested upon arrival in Maine as well, but they must quarantine while awaiting the results.