Wells has prohibited all short-term rentals and ordered that all lodging facilities in the coastal tourist town be unoccupied until at least May 1 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

An order passed Tuesday by the Board of Selectmen recommends “in the strongest possible terms” that seasonal residents not return to their properties in Wells until May 1 or when Gov. Janet Mills terminates the state of emergency. Town officials ask any seasonal property owners who do return before May 1 to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Town officials say they are concerned an influx of seasonal residents seeking “safe haven” from the virus will overload medical services and limit the availability of basic supplies.

The order prohibits all short-term rentals until May 1, regardless of whether money is exchanged. It also orders that all high-density accommodations – including hotels, motels, inns and seasonal parks – be unoccupied until May 1. The restrictions to not apply to people who are in town to care for residents who can’t care for themselves or for people who are engaged in essential business and services.

“My understanding is there has been a noticeable influx of people in the past week,” town attorney Leah Rachin told selectmen during a meeting Tuesday night.

There are more than 5,000 seasonal rental units in Wells, many of them in high-density neighborhoods near the beach or in seasonal cottage complexes and mobile home parks. The year-round population is around 10,000, but surges to more than 40,000 during summer.

“To the people trying to come here and use this as a safe haven, please don’t do that,” Selectman Timothy Roche said. “We don’t have the space in our hospitals or the food and supplies to do that.”

During their virtual meeting, selectmen referenced hostility on social media toward seasonal residents returning to town and asked people to stop engaging in those types of posts. Roche said town officials want to stop the spread of the virus now to protect people and to help make sure businesses will be able to open for the summer season.

Earlier this week, the Portland City Council voted to temporarily ban short-term rentals in most circumstances. People who are currently in short-term rentals in Portland have until April 6 to leave.

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