A strict executive order requiring travelers to Maine to self-quarantine for two weeks after arriving has triggered confusion, frustration and concern from legions of rusticators used to spending summers basking in Maine’s natural beauty.

The rule, part of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order on visitors and lodging passed in early April, also raises questions about the impact of removing tens of thousands of part-time residents from the state’s economy at the annual peak of consumer spending. It also is expected to create problems for local law enforcement agencies as they seek to follow up on myriad complaints from residents about out-of-state visitors flouting the rules.

For four decades, Carol Harvey has spent part of her summer in Kennebunkport, shopping at local stores, eating in restaurants and relaxing on the beach. A few years ago, her family bought a condo and usually spends a few weeks at a time there.

But with a quarantine order in effect, Harvey doesn’t expect a normal summer this year. She expects to spend a few days opening up her property in May, but has no firm plans to visit after that.

“I don’t think I could put 14 days worth of food in my refrigerator – how practical is that?” she said. “It feels very unwelcome; obviously we won’t spend as much time up there if things keep going the way it is.”

Harvey feels badly that she can’t visit, especially since she pays property taxes in Kennbunkport, but she feels even worse for businesses that depend on summer visitors.

“I just don’t know how the area is going to survive,” Harvey said.

For more than a century, Maine has been a destination for people to spend summers away from congested East Coast cities. That legacy lives today – Maine has the highest rate of seasonal homeownership in the country. About 17 percent of the state’s housing units – 125,000 homes – are considered seasonal, said State Economist Amanda Rector.

Out-of-state homeowners undoubtedly contribute to consumer spending, particularly in Maine’s scenic coastline, mountains and lakes.

“Seasonal residents are an important part of Maine’s economy and can have an even larger impact on those communities where seasonal housing units make up a higher percentage of the total,” Rector said.

Consumer spending in Maine hits a peak between June and September, according to 2019 sales data from the state’s tax office.

Those months make up one-third of sales at food stores, general merchandise and other retail shops, more than $3.6 billion altogether. Summertime accounted for 44 percent of restaurant sales – $1.3 billion – last year.

Determining the full economic impact of part-time residents is difficult, however. It’s unclear who owns seasonal homes, and how much their spending matters.

“That makes it nearly impossible to extrapolate economic contributions from out-of-state seasonal residents versus Maine residents who own a seasonal home,” Rector said

The heart of Western Maine’s lake region is another epicenter of summertime residents. Most of Sebago Lake’s shoreline is privately owned, by Maine residents and also families from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and elsewhere, said Robin Mullins, executive director of the Sebago Lake Region Chamber of Commerce.

When those folks are here, they are out spending money at food and convenience stores, hardware stores, restaurants, marinas and shops, she said. But with a quarantine in place, she doubts many will want to come, especially if they typically commute up for the weekend from their homes.

“They become part of the region when they are here, a lot of local folks are friends with them and consider them family,” Mullins said. “No one is going to come up here and sit in their lodge for two weeks.”

On April 3, Mills ordered hotels and other lodging to close and stop taking reservations and enacted a 14-day quarantine for anyone coming into the state except for essential workers. The quarantine rule will apply through at least August, according to Mills’ plan to restart the Maine economy.

The order means people should not go out in public while visiting Maine, and that people from areas identified as coronavirus hot spots should not visit at all.

It is meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from hot spots such as Boston and New York that could trigger outbreaks and overwhelm Maine’s health care system.

People may come for fewer than two weeks, but they have to stay isolated the entire time they are here, said Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They should bring all of the provisions they need for the length of their stay and must avoid public interaction during the length of their stay,” Long said.

State officials, including CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Economic Development Commissioner Heather Johnson, have said the state wants to come up with a better system that could include virus testing, to allow more people to visit the state.

Right now, self-quarantine is the only tool they have to prevent virus transmission from out of state, they’ve said.

Violating the quarantine can be penalized by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. So far, no charges have been filed, and law enforcement officials are working to educate the public and get voluntary compliance, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said.

“State police are not stopping cars because there is an out-of-state plate,” he said. “The majority of calls have been from out-of-staters wanting to know how it works: Can they do this? Can they do that?”

A question that comes up often is whether time spent self-quarantining at home prior to travel will count as credit toward the time they have to stay isolated in Maine, McCausland said. The answer is no.

“When they hear 14-day quarantine is mandatory, they make other plans,” he said.

In Wells, where the population swells from around 10,000 year-round residents to nearly 40,000 in the summer, police have fielded calls from locals worried about out-of-state visitors showing up in their neighborhoods, Police Chief Jo-Ann Putnam said.

In some cases, it is a misunderstanding. In other cases, police give out-of-state visitors a copy of Mills’ order and ask them to abide by it.

“Once we talk about it, they understand and they usually leave,” Putnam said.

“I don’t blame them, I really don’t,” she added. “But we want to be able to salvage the summer. If people stay away and we don’t have an influx and a spike in cases, everyone will be able to come up here and enjoy July and August.”

The restrictions are tough to take for Tom Carney, who owns a seasonal cottage in a development in Wells and typically spends every weekend there during the summer.

His property is zoned as lodging, so even though he owns his home and pays taxes, he is prohibited from visiting there at all, even if he self-quarantines. People who own single-family homes or condos don’t have the same restrictions, Carney said.

“Our property is being held from us surrounding others that are not – you can almost see that as discriminatory,” he said.

Carney worries restrictions will degrade his home’s value, and he wonders what will happen to seasonal residents who spend half the year in warm states such as Florida and the rest of the year in Maine.

“I can imagine that is causing hardship for some of them,” he said. “Some of these people are a legitimate six months a year in this community; it is part of their life plan.”

Wells Town Manager Jon Carter said all he has done for the last few weeks is answer questions from seasonal taxpayers. Seasonal homes make up 38 percent of the town’s property tax base.

“Certainly they contribute to the economy,” he said. “They are the economy in the summer.”

For many residents from Massachusetts, it’s an easy drive to his town, and plenty have still been coming on weekends, Carter said.

“I guess people have left their brains at home, they come up and check on their place – I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received asking, ‘Can I mow my lawn?'” Carter said. “You have a stay-at-home order, we have a stay-at-home order – it is not essential to come up here. I’m not sure why you’re coming up here.”

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