AUGUSTA — The state has unveiled a proposed alternative to the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors in an attempt to salvage the summer season amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the three part plan, which includes compliance forms, expanded testing and increased symptom checking, visitors who have received a negative COVID-19 test no later than 72 hours prior to arrival are allowed to forgo the 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Maine. Individuals may be tested in Maine, but they must quarantine while awaiting the results.
Visitors from New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt from the testing and 14-day quarantine requirement altogether, effective immediately. “When adjusted for population, the prevalence of active cases of COVID-19 in these states is similar to that in Maine,” the Governor’s office noted in a press release.
“It doesn’t mean you’re free — it means use a cloth face covering, keep your social distance and enjoy Maine,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew in a media briefing on Monday.
Visitors also will be asked to sign a compliance form, provided at all Maine lodging, campgrounds, seasonal rentals, overnight camps and other commercial lodging (including short-term rentals) stating either that they’ve received a negative COVID-19 test, that they will quarantine in Maine for 14 days, or that they have already completed their quarantine in Maine.
The forms will be kept on file at the lodging establishment for a period of time (perhaps 30 days, Governor Janet Mills said). Visitors “may” be required to provide proof of their negative test result if they’re asked.
“We don’t want to make the hotel staff become a repository for HIPAA-protected information,” said Mills. “Someone may ask for the test result, confirming it.”
The new rules go into effect on July 1, when lodging establishments may begin serving residents outside of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. A draft of the Certificate of Compliance form is posted on the state’s website at maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine/keepmainehealthy.
Nearly half of the state’s visitors come from Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, where the presence of the virus is 8 to 11 times higher than the population-adjusted cases in Maine. Maine has the nation’s highest percentage of housing that serves as vacation homes.
Visitors and residents also can expect to see more symptom checking in high-traffic areas, such as visitors’ centers and beach parking lots. The state plans to partner with the Maine Community College System to enlist Maine students in the health professions to ask visitors questions and offer advice.
State officials were looking for “as broad of an economic reopening as possible,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic Community Development (DECD), at the briefing.
“Many other states have imposed capacity limits on hotels, motels and campgrounds,” said Mills. “We didn’t do that.”
The Department of Transportation also will place signs at key sites instructing people to stay home or seek medical care if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and informing visitors of the quarantine or testing requirements.
Alaska announced a similar plan last week, with a form for travelers that includes information such as a declaration certifying a negative PCR test or a vow to self-quarantine for 14 days. The form also asks about symptoms and for an address where the visitor will be quarantined, if that is required.
As of Monday, Hancock County had recorded 12 confirmed cases of the virus. Ten residents had reportedly recovered, one had passed away and one had been hospitalized at some point.
“Our numbers are low right now,” said Mills, but numerous public health leaders, including the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, “all predict a resurgence in late summer, early fall. We want to protect against that.”
In Maine, the “low numbers … are not an accident,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Monday. “They are the direct and beneficial result of early quick action by the government” coupled with buy-in from residents.