Editorial: Waiting on the sun

Maine cannot afford to lose the 2021 season. Closures, mandatory visitor quarantines and economic turmoil pounded the hospitality and tourism industries last summer and the pain rippled out to other sectors, including fishing. There were a lot fewer plates to put lobster on.

Some businesses just barely made it through with a combination of grit, federal assistance and support from local patrons. Unsurprisingly, restaurants, hotels, transportation services and entertainment-related businesses have emerged as some of the leading applicants in the latest round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to reporting in the Portland Press Herald. Owners of live performance venues, movie theaters and museums that have been shuttered during the pandemic are waiting to apply for new grants under another program.

Businesses in other sectors are doing better than anticipated, even thriving. Others took a hit, but not enough of one to qualify for more funding under the new PPP guidelines.

Nationally, employers added 49,000 jobs in January. Unemployment dropped to 6.3 percent, from December’s 6.7 percent, but jobs are not rebounding nearly as quickly as hoped. The United States lost 227,000 jobs in December. The finance and business and professional services fields added jobs last month. Bars and restaurants continued to lose them, even adjusted for seasonal fluctuations.

Those businesses that rely on travelers or hosting groups of people do not know what changes may be in store for them next week, never mind by Memorial Day. Planning is a frustrating game of “What if?” The success of the vaccination effort will be critical.

Luckily, we also know more about the virus and how to mitigate its spread. Business owners have a blueprint for operating under various pandemic guidelines — some more onerous than others. And there appears to be plenty of pent-up demand. Summer rentals are filling up. Locals certainly are experiencing an advanced case of cabin fever. Massachusetts and New York residents are probably feeling the same.

The best course is to lean in on what has always been key to Maine’s brand — fresh air, open spaces and a friendly and practical populace. The Department of Transportation sets the right tone with playful highway sign messaging: “Leave some space, mask your face,” “Masks: Common sense for the common good” and “Wearing is caring.” Maine has much to gain by positioning itself as a safe and welcoming destination.

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