Maine lodging businesses are ramping up pressure on Gov. Janet Mills to jettison requirements that out-of-state visitors quarantine or attest to negative COVID-19 tests as the state’s short and lucrative summer quickly slips away.

Hotel and resort owners from southern York County’s beach communities rallied Monday morning, demanding Mills let them reopen completely without the testing and quarantine restrictions.

Another group of hotel owners on and around Mount Desert Island demanded the state produce scientific evidence to support the testing and quarantine requirements, as well as other public documents, in an extensive Freedom of Access Act request.

Visitors have canceled thousands of reservations because they are unable to find places to get tested, a group of hoteliers said at a Monday news conference in Ogunquit. An informal search of testing sites in 10 states showed 90 percent of requests for a test for travel purposes were denied, they said.

As the state begins to open to outside travel, hotels, retailers and restaurants that depend on tourists fear testing and quarantines will stand in the way of their success, and for some, survival.

“Our goalposts seem to keep moving,” said Sarah Diment, owner of the Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit. “July 1 is right around the corner and guests are telling us they can’t get tests.”

Strict travel restrictions, the tightest in continental U.S., also make Maine feel unwelcoming to visitors, said Tina Hewett-Gordon, general manager of the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. Maine requires all those entering the state to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours before entering.

Guests have canceled reservations and will go somewhere that has fewer requirements, Hewett-Gordon said.

“We know how to do this, please governor let us reopen,” she said. “Testing is not a viable strategy.”

Phil Cavaretta, owner of the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, speaks at Monday’s press conference at the resort. Inkeepers from southern Maine held the event to decry the state’s restrictions on out-of-state visitors. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Meanwhile, the lucrative summer season is rapidly slipping away. Maine hotels brought in $802 million from June to September last year, 64 percent of their annual revenue, according to Maine Revenue Services.

In tourism hot spots, summer is even more critical. In southern York County, where millions usually flock to York, Wells and Ogunquit for beach vacations, lodging businesses took in 72 percent of annual revenue from June to September last year. In and around Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island, nearly 80 percent of hotel spending occurred in those four months.

“June is mostly gone, it is usually a robust month, and it is lost now,” said Nancy White, managing director of Cliff House Resort in Ogunquit.

Maine’s hotel room occupancy rate was about 30 percent last week, the fourth-lowest in the country behind Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, according to STR, a hospitality benchmarking data firm. Only Delaware, South Carolina, Idaho and Mississippi had hotel occupancy rates above 50 percent.

Mills implemented a two-week quarantine for nonessential people entering Maine in March. The measure, also taken by other states, was intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections and protect the state’s health care infrastructure from a wave of new cases.

But an extension of the quarantine requirement in Mills’ reopening plan was met with anger and frustration from businesses that depend on masses of summer tourists. Extending quarantine-free travel to residents of Vermont and New Hampshire, and to visitors with a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before arriving, did little to reassure those businesses.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a news briefing Monday that the security provided by having visitors attest to a negative COVID-19 test was a motivation for Mills.

“We did discuss other alternatives,” Shah said. “We felt this is the one that most proportionately balanced keeping people in Maine safe as tourism comes back up.”

New Hampshire allows people to quarantine at home for two weeks before visiting, and Massachusetts urges a two-week quarantine when arriving there. Vermont allows visitors to travel from counties with fewer than 400 cases per million residents without a quarantine. That prohibits quarantine-free travel for most people in heavily populated parts of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as Cumberland and Androscoggin counties in Maine. Those travelers can visit the state with a two-week quarantine or a seven-day quarantine and negative test in Vermont.

“I think we are quite similar to Vermont,” said Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew in Monday’s briefing.

“Given the fact that Maine has been successful more than any other Eastern Seaboard state in keeping the prevalence of (COVID-19) low, our goal is to keep it that way and attract visitors that want to come to a safe state,” Lambrew said.

Some tourism businesses question the scientific basis for the state’s restrictions. A group of 38 hotels and restaurants in the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island region filed a Freedom of Access Act request to the state last week demanding the data, metrics and modeling as well as economic data, communications and other documents it used to fashion its travel restrictions.

A group of hotel owners, using the name Work with ME, urged Mills to trust their industry’s plan to welcome tourists safely and prevent economic disaster. At least 2,000 hospitality workers have been trained on the state’s prevention checklist, said Eben Salvatore, director of operations at Bar Harbor Resorts, in a statement.

“We are seeing a plan from the administration that does not make tourism in Maine desirable,” Salvatore said. “It’s unacceptable. Our plan puts the health and safety of individuals first, while being able to salvage the rest of our summer tourism season the most sustainable way possible.”

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