Travelling this summer will be awkward at best, but a breath of fresh air on a much-needed getaway for residents who have been under long quarantines will also be necessary – awkward or not.
But it won’t come without proof of a negative COVID-19 test in many locations.
As people begin to travel regionally – mostly in cars or trains due to the continued risk of air travel – many states are requiring that Massachusetts residents either quarantine at their destination for 14 days (which likely isn’t happening on a vacation from quarantine), or bring proof they have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving. That is exactly the case for Maine, which released its new travel guidance on June 26 – opening up with some restrictions the vacation playground once again to those from Boston.
For Maine officials, the guidance about testing is about protecting the residents there as much as it is about protecting those who are coming up to vacation – and being tested before arriving is something tourism officials there are giving a big thumbs up to.
“We feel really strongly about it and feel it’s a great solution,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Dept. of Economic and Community Development. “When you think about tourism in Maine, you grow from 1.3 million people to 22 million in the summer months. That’s a very large swing in population. This is one of the options to keep residents and tourists safe. We feel strongly about keeping residents and people coming to Maine safe.”
In Maine, the choices are to quarantine or to test, and it’s about protecting the work that has been done on COVID-19, while still being able to enjoy a getaway.
“States where numbers are under control need to protect that,” Johnson said. “The best available options to do that are to quarantine or to test. We decided to let visitors make that decision…For the people who want to go downtown or enjoy areas that are populated, they can go get the test and be confident they are safe and healthy.”
That is exactly what David Belton, the outgoing CEO of the nearby South End Community Health Center, plans to do with his family before they travel to Maine later this month.
Having already had to cancel trips to Italy, Slovenia and Los Angeles in the last three months, he said he’s vacation-deprived, and looks forward to some respite in Maine. However, he also wants to follow their rules and have confidence that he isn’t bringing COVID-19 north.
“We’re planning to go to Maine on July 11 and rent a house there for two weeks,” he said. “My plan is for us to be tested at the South End Community Health Center site in advance and then head up that way. We’ll get the test on Wednesday, and then leave on Saturday. I’ll have my letter or certificate with my result from the health center. I’ll carry it with me so they know I’m safe and so I can present it if I get stopped or questioned with my Massachusetts license plates.”
He said if that’s what has to be done, he can understand the logic.
“Our plan is for everyone going to be tested,” he said. “I want to be active and out up there. I don’t want to self-quarantine for two weeks up there. We’ve all had enough of that.”
Belton said it’s probably a response from Maine to help the vacation destination industry – which is really hurting – and to also reassure Maine residents that outsiders aren’t bringing in the virus.
In Mission Hill, testing sites are available at Brigham & Women’s Hospital Main Campus (75 Francis St.), and at Whittier Street Health Center (1290 Tremont St.). A short drive away testing is available at the South End Community Health Center (drive up by the Blackstone Elementary School)
At the Bayside Inn Bed & Breakfast in Booth Bay Harbor, former Boston residents and Inn proprietors Peter and Kathryn Sullivan said the lodging industry was down 80 percent in April and likely just as much in May. They were only allowed to welcome guests from Massachusetts as of June 26.
Right now, in such uncertain times, they are trying to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions, new sanitary procedures and other ways of doing business. Maine issued its executive order last week allowing Massachusetts residents to come up and visit. With proof of a negative result, visitors can move about freely without any worry – especially since the Booth Bay area only had 23 cases during the entire COVID-19 outbreak, so it’s relatively free of the virus. With the certificate, Sullivan said visitors can take boat tours, hit the hiking trails and get tickets to the world-famous Booth Bay Botanical Gardens. The hope is that Boston residents will take the chance to come up north – even as many have said they will defer summer vacations this year.
“Up until last Friday, we were only allowed to have Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont residents without certification of being virus free,” she said. “As of June 26, anyone who travels here has to sign a certificate of compliance…We’d love to have more Boston people come up. It’s much quicker to get here than to the Cape now, I believe…There are some great opportunities here to get outside and enjoy nature.”
Johnson said the state of Maine also is encouraging Massachusetts residents to come up north this summer, but they do want to make sure everyone is safe in doing so.
“We just don’t want the back and forth of opening up and closing down,” she said. “We’re looking forward to serving them. We are anxious to see them and hope they come and hope they feel safe here. We will do everything we can to protect them.”