Homebound travelers desperate to venture out for the first time since the pandemic are confronting a vacation landscape this summer that may require coronavirus tests for the family and even quarantines.
States from Maine to Hawaii are trying to strike a balance between containing the new coronavirus and encouraging out-of-state visitors to spend their cash on hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
The measures have gotten a thumbs-down from many in the tourism industry, who fear visitors will choose to wait things out until they can hit the beach without worrying about violating a state-imposed quarantine or searching for a testing site.
During a pandemic, discretion is the better part of valor, said Pauline Frommer, editorial director for Frommers.com and Frommers’ travel guidebooks.
“I think it’s important to look at what our safe options are. You don’t want to die because you went on vacation,” she said.
Some states like Hawaii have settled on quarantines. Maine, Alaska and Vermont have some version of a testing alternative.
In “Vacationland,” as Maine dubs itself, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills thought she was doing the tourism industry a favor by providing an alternative to the 14-day quarantine. Visitors can skip the quarantine altogether if they can show they’ve tested negative for the virus within 72 hours before arrival.
Some innkeepers and restaurateurs complain the measure falls short of what is needed to attract tourists and salvage their summer season.
“We don’t think visitors are going to jump through hoops like that. They’ll just choose another destination,” said Steve Hewins from HospitalityMaine, the state’s tourism trade group.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige extended the state’s mandatory two-week quarantine for all arriving travelers, even as the state scrambles to produce a screening process that could allow some travelers to return.
In Florida, which has recently seen a spike in cases, visitors from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are required to quarantine. New York, meanwhile, is considering requiring Florida visitors to quarantine.
Travelers to Alaska who are tested upon arrival are allowed to avoid further quarantine if they test negative. But they’re encouraged to limit their activities until they obtain a second negative test result.
In Vermont, visitors can cut short the two-week quarantine if they get a test after a week that comes back negative.
“There is pent-up demand, people are wanting to come to the state,” so anything to help travelers plan and reduce their burden is a good thing, said Tim Piper, president of the Vermont Inn and Bed and Breakfast Association.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, is requiring out-of-staters to attest to having quarantined at home for 14 days before staying at a hotel or other lodging property. That idea was adopted after the state rejected the idea of forcing visitors to quarantine.
Safety concerns are real in Maine, the state with the nation’s oldest population, a segment that’s vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Maine, which touts its lobster, lighthouses and rocky shore as attractions, depends heavily on tourism. Its population of 1.3 million swells with 37 million visitors during a typical year.
Visitors can avoid a quarantine by being tested before they arrive, or they can reduce the quarantine’s duration by being tested after arrival. But the state is encouraging visitors to test before arrival, and “know before you go.” Vermont and New Hamsphire residents are exempted from the rules.
Maine innkeepers say the tests are burdensome because they’re potentially costly — and not readily available.
At the Cod Cove Inn, owner Ted Hugger questions whether out-of-staters will pony up for the tests, which cost $150 if paid out of pocket. He also questioned whether tests will keep people safe since those 18 and under and traveling with adults are exempt.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s not a viable option.”
Jeremiah Hawkins, 72, of New York, said the changes may make him rethink his August visit to the Maine coast. He said it’s not easy to get tests, especially within a 72-hour window before arrival.
“It’s draconian,” said the retired film executive. “Why do I want to go there if no one wants me?”
Hewins, of HospitalityMaine, winces at the idea of a teenage hotel desk clerk being put in the awkward position of turning away families with reservations who’ve driven hours to vacation in the state.
He prefers the approach in neighboring New Hampshire, which has something closer to an honor system for visitors.
Mills, the governor, said quarantines and tests are necessary to prevent an even greater calamity as the coronavirus remains a threat.
More than 2,800 people have tested positive and more than 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Maine. Those are modest numbers compared to hard-hit states but Maine’s rural hospitals could be overwhelmed if millions of visitors arrived without any safety provisions, the governor said.
“I can think of nothing more devastating than an outbreak or resurgence of this deadly untreatable virus during the height of tourism season,” she said.
Here are the latest developments in regards to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:
Summer school teachers and students are getting guidance about how to stay safe, and a historic garden recreated on the Isles of Shoals every summer has a new temporary home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teachers, students and staff will be encouraged but not required to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus this summer, according to Department of Education guidance issued Friday.
The guidance, drafted in cooperation with public health officials, says educators are encouraged to wear fabric face coverings when 6 feet of social distancing is difficult to maintain or when caring for students with underlying health conditions.
Masks are also recommended for students, though the guidance spells out instances in which masks are not recommended, such as for students who have trouble breathing, wear hearing aids or are likely to frequently touch the masks and render them less effective.
The rules also spell out screening, social distancing and sanitation procedures.
Historic garden: A garden that once inspired one of America’s foremost impressionist painters has been reconstructed in a new location because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the late 1880s, poet Celia Thaxter attracted members of Boston’s literary and artistic societies to her family’s hotel on Appledore Island off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Artist Childe Hassam kept a studio there and featured Thaxter’s gardens in a series of paintings.
The island is now home to the Shoals Marine Laboratory, and hundreds of people visit a recreation of the garden each summer. But the tours have been canceled this year because of the pandemic.
At the same time, the city of Portsmouth was struggling to find enough plants for its summer garden at Prescott Park. With financial help from a frequent visitor to the garden, officials this week planted a recreation of Thaxter’s garden at the Portsmouth site.
“Celia Thaxter and her garden are so beloved and visitors from all over the world are passionate about seeing it each summer so we knew we had to find the right spot on the mainland to replant this special garden for the summer” said Jennifer Seavey, director of the marine lab. “We think we have found the perfect interim site at Prescott Park thanks to the City of Portsmouth.”
The numbers: As of Friday, 5,486 people in New Hampshire had tested positive for the virus, an increase of 37. Six deaths were announced, for a total of 337.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.
Vermont is taking another step toward reopening the economy, allowing restaurants and other venues next week to increase their capacity and allowing July 4 fireworks — as long as they are at drive-in events.
Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle announced Friday that restaurants, arts venues other entertainment establishments starting June 26 can increase their capacity from 25% to 50%, to a maximum of 75 customers inside and 150 outside.
“Our announcement today will not make the hospitality industry whole,” Kurrle said. “But we hope it’s another step in the return to profitability allowing venues to plan summer events as we head into this all important season to the tourism sector.”
The state is also allowing visitors from New York and the other New England states to visit Vermont without quarantining for two weeks if they come from counties in the region that have virus infection rates of less than 400 per million residents. The state announced Friday that the number of people in counties that fall into this category has reached 6.8 million.
School guidance: Mandatory face coverings for students and teachers and bus stop temperature scans are part of the back-to-school guidance issued by the Vermont Agency of Education for this fall.
The guidance recommends that another adult ride the bus with the driver to assist with screenings, which would be done before students board. Both adults also must wear face coverings. Students would be assigned seats on the bus.
Facial coverings may be removed during outdoor activities where students and staff can maintain physical distancing and have ready access to put them back as needed when the activities are over, according to the guidance.
With cafeterias closed, students should be offered school meals in their classrooms, and if that’s not possible, grab-and-go carts could be made available for students to collect meals in small groups, the guidance said.
Every school district and independent school “should establish a COVID-19 coordinator to establish, review and implement health and safety protocols,” the guidance says. That person “should be a school nurse or other health professional qualified to interpret guidelines and ensure they are implemented to the best standard of practice.”
Unemployment: Vermont’s unemployment rate dropped to 12.7% for May, a decrease of 3.8% from 16.5% in April, the first full month reflecting the impact of the coronavirus.
The national unemployment rate in May was 13.3%.
“The May figures show increased economic activity as companies continue to re-open,” Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said. “Construction, manufacturing, retail, and leisure and hospitality industries showed significant increases in employment this past month and early indications see this continuing.”
The numbers: The Vermont Department of Health on Friday reported nine new positive cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, including two that are linked to a new outbreak in Winooski.
The new cases raise to 88 the number of cases linked to the Winooski outbreak. They brought the statewide total of positive cases to 1,144.
No new deaths were reported Friday, leaving the statewide total at 56.
The state’s unemployment rate declined slightly in May after more than tripling because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Maine Department of Labor announced Friday.
The jobless rate declined by 1.3 percentage points, to 9.3 percent. But the labor department said the unemployment estimates continue to understate the magnitude of job loss in the last three months.
The state’s streak of low unemployment ended in April, when the jobless rate jumped to 10.6 percent compared to the 3.2 percent rate in March.
Meanwhile, the number of claims for unemployment compensation that have been canceled because of fraud topped 50,000. Some legitimate claims, however, have yet to be paid.
“I am well aware that there are Maine people who are not receiving their benefits. We are working diligently to get benefits to those people,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman told lawmakers Thursday.
Last week’s initial claims were the lowest since the pandemic triggered mass unemployment, with about 4,850 initial unemployment claims adding to the more than 145,000 workers who have claimed jobless benefits, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The number of people collecting weekly unemployment benefits is also falling, according to the state’s latest figures.
The numbers: Another 35 people tested positive for the coronavirus, but there were no deaths over the past 24 hours, the Maine Centers for Disease Control reported Friday.
All told, 2,913 Maine residents have tested positive and 102 have died during the pandemic, the Maine CDC said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.