No matter how you look at it, Maine’s summer tourism season is full of uncertainty and peril. In the coming weeks, elected officials, business owners, workers and visitors will make decisions on how to proceed, weighing the economic well-being of the industry, its members and the state as a whole against the need to protect individual and public health.

It’s unlike anything the state has faced before, and as of now there are no clearly safe options.

However, there is still time to find some. The state must use it wisely.

Gov. Mills this week released her phased economic recovery plan, and it reflects the uncertainty surrounding this summer.

On Friday, a few kinds of businesses that have been closed for the last few weeks will be allowed to reopen.

The second phase is set to start June 1, when restaurants can once again serve in-person diners. Lodgings and campgrounds could reopen then, too, but only for Maine residents and out-of-state visitors who have isolated themselves for 14 days after their arrival here.

From a business perspective, that’s untenable. No one is coming here on vacation only to stay in a hotel room for two weeks. It’s as good as banning out-of-staters outright, and it would mean an end to this year’s tourist season.

State officials have said as much, and they promise to revisit the 14-day requirement in the coming weeks and months.

As with most coronavirus-related decisions, Gov. Mills should opt for the least-restrictive method that still credibly protects public health, which should remain her priority. Right now, unfortunately, the only available method is the quarantine, which is a blunt instrument.

But think of how far we’ve come in our response to the coronavirus in just the last few weeks. Perhaps in another month or so, we’ll know more about the virus and how it spreads. Perhaps we’ll finally have the testing capacity we need. Perhaps a method will emerge that allows visitors to come here as usual, with some modifications. If so, there is still time to change how the state treats them.

However, there is more to consider. Even if Maine can allow visitors to come here and enjoy, with physical distancing, what the state has to offer, that in no way ensures a successful tourism season – and the billions of dollars and all the jobs that come with it.

After all, there will likely be no festivals or concerts. With physical distancing, beaches, bars, shops and restaurants won’t be the same. Some business owners will choose not to open, either because they have been knocked down by the swift economic downturn, are uneasy about the health risks, or can’t make a go of a restaurant with limited seating. Some visitors, maybe a lot, will take the year off.

So Maine has to plan for a way to allow visitors, many who will come from the COVID-19 hot spots of Massachusetts and New York, without endangering public health. It has to plan for a summer season that allows as many businesses and workers to do what they do to get by.

And it has to plan for a year in which that’s not enough, and Maine loses out on the benefits that the $6 billion-a-year tourism industry brings it – regardless of what Mills decides.

Finally, it has to plan for a summer, or fall, in which an outbreak occurs, and all the drastic measures abandoned in the next few months must be put back in place rapidly.

It’s a healthy lift. There is a lot in front of us.

The forecast right now for Maine’s summer is cloudy. Let’s use the next several weeks to bring it some clarity.


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