Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that lodging operators in Maine can immediately begin taking reservations for June 1 under a new executive order that broadens her administration’s plans for reopening the state’s economy to tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson announced the change during a daily news briefing on the state’s response to the coronavirus.

Johnson said visitors from outside Maine are still being asked to quarantine for 14 days after getting here, but she also said the state had no enforcement protocol for the quarantine requirement.

She said the change was made to accommodate owners of second homes who wanted to be able to travel inside Maine during the summer. But when asked during a media briefing if the quarantine rule was essentially an honor system, Johnson said it was.

“It is not necessarily the ideal solution,” Johnson said of the 14-day quarantine. “What it is, right now, is the current solution and really the only solution available from a public health perspective to implement at this moment. We are actively working with industry partners, with some private sector folks to try to figure out other solutions.

“This isn’t likely to be a one-solution answer. It is likely to be multi-layers of protocols, changes in behavior, changes in activity, potentially capacity changes as well as some science support. I think there will be a lot of changes that we are putting together and are working on right now.”

A previous executive order from Mills had prohibited such reservations, except for essential workers. Johnson said the change was part of an ongoing collaboration with businesses within the state’s tourism industry.

Eleven percent of the state’s economy comes from tourism, with the sector bringing 37 million visitors, who spend $6.5 billion a year here. The lodging industry alone contributes $802 million and restaurants contribute $1.3 billion, according to the state’s tourism office.

“The tourism and hospitality industries are vital pillars of Maine’s economy. Although the pandemic has altered how they can operate safely, it has in no way diminished their importance – both to our economy and to us as a state,” Mills said in a prepared statement issued at Thursday’s media briefing, where the state’s top epidemiologist announced 50 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths.

Other states in New England also are wrestling with the issue of visits by tourists from away. On Wednesday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, said tourists coming to her state may have to have a COVID-19 test before being allowed to waive the 14-day quarantine requirement.

Iceland announced this week that all tourists visiting the country would receive a free COVID-19 test upon arrival.

Mills said her administration was exploring additional options to accommodate tourists and the businesses that depend on them.

“We are acting in partnership with the industry to resume reservations while we also work together to evaluate alternatives to the 14-day quarantine, including testing and other protocols, that will allow us to protect Maine residents and tourists during the summer months,” Mills said.

 

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