Hotels and lodging establishments around Maine are facing new questions about how to welcome visitors following new guidance from the state that allows the businesses to resume taking reservations but with restrictions.

The guidance from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development this week maintains a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state residents. It also calls for hotels to require employees to wear face masks, curtail use of pools and exercise facilities, practice enhanced sanitation and take other precautions.

However, the guidance also falsely said, “As the number of COVID-19 cases begins to decrease” the state is taking a staged approach in collaboration with public health experts and industry to allow Maine businesses to reopen safely.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Maine actually jumped to an average of 34 additional cases per day over the two-week period ending Thursday, up from 21 new cases per day for the two weeks ending April 30, though some of that increase is likely due to a growing capacity to test.

Kate Foye, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said in an email Friday that the statement about cases decreasing “was inadvertent and is being corrected.” Later Friday, an updated online version of the document made no reference to the number of cases.

Maine and other states are grappling with the best way to reopen businesses, especially as the summer tourism season approaches and the economy has struggled. Some hotel owners and staff said Friday that while they are eager to welcome guests again, they want to do so in a way that is safe, and they are unsure how a 14-day quarantine on out-of-state residents would work.

They also expressed skepticism about whether people will want to travel at all this summer, given the ongoing pandemic, restrictions and canceled events.

“We’ve had a lot of cancellations for June,” said Erin Abraham, innkeeper at the Chadwick Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Portland. “People just called us and said whatever event they were going to was canceled. People aren’t just traveling to come here. They’re traveling to come do things, and those things aren’t happening.”

Erin Abraham, photographed outside the Chadwick Inn with her daughter, Lily, who often goes to work with her, isn’t sure how or when the inn will reopen. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Since early April, hotels and lodging operators have been unable to take most reservations and have been restricted to housing essential workers and vulnerable populations, like the homeless.

Abraham isn’t sure how or when the Chadwick will reopen, as the inn had previously been operating under the assumption that it would not be able to welcome guests in June and many guests have canceled their summer stays.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” she said. “We don’t know what the summer will look like. Regardless of what the guidelines are and what the rules are, I don’t know if people will come here and I don’t know if they should.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a media briefing Friday that the percentage of positive tests and “gating criteria” are among the things that should be looked at as Maine considers how and when to welcome tourists back to the state.

The gating criteria include things like ensuring hospital systems are able to treat all patients, that health care workers have robust access to testing, and that documented COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending downward. Shah also said it is important to look at how prevalent the virus is in surrounding states.

“What we’ve found is not surprising to folks who are listening and watching the news every day, which is that virtually every state around Maine has a higher prevalence of disease of COVID-19,” Shah said.

Currently, the two-week quarantine on people from out-of-state is one of the limited tools to effectively protect Mainers from the virus, Foye said.

“Hot spots such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts continue to report a significant number of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” she said. “These are the same states from which we draw the vast majority of our tourists.”

She said the ultimate goal of the Mills administration is to be able to relax the quarantine, but to do so in a way that does not jeopardize people’s health. Some in the hotel and lodging industry are wondering how much the new guidelines will help them while the quarantine is in effect.

Steve Hewins, president of Hospitality Maine, a nonprofit trade group representing the hospitality industry, said being able to take reservations again is a “step forward,” but the quarantine rules make things difficult. He said he is hoping to work with the state on an alternative way to monitor out-of-state visitors, such as through testing.

“I don’t see (the quarantine) as something that can easily be managed by a hotel,” Hewins said. “I would say it’s really impractical for that to happen. That’s why I would say the quarantine is unworkable for the industry. It’s sending a ‘We’re closed.’ message.”

Hotels and establishments that don’t follow the rules could risk lawsuits or losing their licenses, Hewins said.

Connie Lay, owner of the Candlebay Inn in Freeport, says she won’t be able to book to capacity because guests can’t socially distance at the inn, which can sleep as many as 18 people. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I have very mixed feelings,” said Connie Lay, owner of the Candlebay Inn in Freeport. “If I could afford it I would stay closed. … I don’t want to be part of the problem and I don’t want myself or my family to end up getting sick.”

Lay said her June reservations have “pretty much cleared out” due to people not wanting to travel or being upset about the restrictions on visitors. She said she has called some would-be guests to tell them about the new guidelines, but only one person has said they would get back to her.

“As far as June goes, I’m not sure how it will work with the 14-day quarantine,” Lay said. “One question no one seems to be able to answer is, ‘How it is going to be enforced?’ If it’s just an honor thing we know how that’s going to go.”

In Kennebunk, Shanna O’hea, who owns the Kennebunk Inn with her husband, said the inn and adjoining restaurant have been closed since mid-March.

“I don’t have any reservations coming anymore,” O’hea said. “That ship already sailed and because of all that stuff I’ve had cancellations all over the place, into July and August. So we’re already feeling the effects of this from a month ago’s regulations.”

O’hea said she isn’t sure when she will reopen. She currently has very few reservations and is working with guests on a case-by-case basis to determine what is best for them and is currently refunding normally non-refundable reservations.

“I tell people, ‘If you want to book something we can book it,’ but the laws change,” she said. “I don’t want to put anyone at risk, but I also know things may change so if we can salvage the business we may do that, but I don’t want to be unsafe.”

Diane Pace, owner of the West End Inn in Portland, has been keeping potential guests up to date on the latest guidance throughout the pandemic, but said that realistically the quarantine is “an impossibility.”

“You’re asking a guest to come and stay somewhere, like, ‘You’re going to hide somewhere in the state of Maine for 14 days,’ and then once you’ve done so you can come out of that quarantine and stay at a hotel,” she said. “I believe for 100 percent of guests that would be a virtually impossible scenario to live up to.”

Pace said when she does reopen June 1, she plans to modify common areas and move around furniture to allow for more personal space. Breakfast offerings will be modified to reduce common touch points, and cleaning and disinfecting will continue.

“The most important thing is the safety of our employees and guests,” Pace said. “So we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that is No. 1, and then in striving for that safety for our guests and employees we will do our best to interpret these rules and to follow them.”

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