HARPSWELL — Those in Harpswell’s hospitality industry are bracing after a pair of temporary state and local emergency orders prohibiting short-term rentals and discouraging tourism.

Harpswell’s emergency order, which was issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, applies to all lodging facilities, including hotels, motels, campgrounds, timeshares and short-term rental homes, which typically see heavy traffic during the summer.

The order also discourages those with seasonal homes from coming to Harpswell, but states that if they do come to Harpswell, they must undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Any person or business that violates the order could face a $500 fine. Each day of occupancy would be a new violation.

The emergency order lasts until April 30, but it may be extended or revoked by selectmen.

Last Friday, Gov. Janet Mills issued an identical order that blankets the state with the same restrictions until April 30.

Harpswell has a year-round population of just under 5,000, according to the U.S. Census, but a 2013 Harpswell economic development plan estimates the town’s population more than doubles when summer tourists and seasonal residents arrive.

The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau identified 1,213 seasonal homes in the community, which make up about 33% of the town’s total housing units.

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Johnson said he’s concerned about part-time residents who are fleeing cities where coronavirus cases are higher and coming to their seasonal homes in Harpswell.

“It’s their house, they have a right to come here and I don’t blame them for getting out of New York or Boston, but we need them to quarantine for everyone’s safety,” said Johnson.

Those exempt from Harpswell’s order include people who are unable to care for themselves, medical personnel, first responders, those considered essential employees, active duty military and their family, someone escaping domestic violence, someone removing themselves from a home with a positive COVID-19 patient, government facilities and recipients of General Assitance that have been provided with accommodations.

Mills’ restrictions on travelers came on the heels of a statewide stay-at-home order that orders all Mainers to stay at home except for “essential personal activities” like grocery shopping or seeking medical care.

Prior to selectmen issuing the order, several hotel owners said they saw this coming and agreed the restrictions are in the public’s best interest.

Rita Dube, owner of the Bailey Island Motel, said this summer looked like it was going to be great for business, but after coronavirus began spreading across Maine, she has received nothing but cancellations.

“Unless things get better fast it doesn’t look good for us,” said Dube. “If (coronavirus) lasts just one year, we’ll survive … we may have to dig into our savings, but we’ll be alright.”

While Dube doesn’t have an estimate of how many visitors she receives each summer, she said her 12-room motel is consistently full each July and August, and June and September are typically busy.

Deb Wolfenden, owner of the Common Table Bed and Breakfast in South Harpswell, said she began canceling reservations prior to this emergency order because she felt it was the right thing to do to decrease the possibility of spreading the virus.

“We had people wanting to get out of the city for school vacations and such, but we called and canceled,” said Wolfenden. “Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing.”

Wolfenden said the Common Table sees anywhere between 500 and 1,000 visitors between June and September. Because of this, she said she hopes she can welcome visitors by June.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this place over the past 16 years,” said Wolfenden. “I would hate to see this place go under, but is it a possibility? Yes.”

Dick Mosely, president of the Harpswell Business Association, said the order has little impact on the town now because seasonal hotels and eateries don’t open until next month, but if the restriction stretches into the summer, it will have devastating effects on the town.

“Everything in Harpswell is dependent on summer travelers,” said Mosely. “The ricochet effect is going to be more harmful than the emergency order itself because if there’s no place to eat or stay, why should people come to Harpswell at all?”

Despite this grim possibility, Mosely is confident business owners in Harpswell will survive.

“We’re been through lots of things, but we’re very resilient,” said Mosely. “We bounced back from things like the recession and I think we’ll bounce back from this.”

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