The owners of more than 80 small businesses in southern Maine are urging Gov. Janet Mills not to lift the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors, urging her to follow the advice of public health experts and to slow the state’s move toward reopening.

Their letter was sent Monday to the governor and her staff, and includes signatures from dozens of businesses that typically employ fewer than 10 people. Reopening the state to tourists too quickly could hurt the progress that has been made in containing the spread of coronavirus, the group says, and potentially doom Maine to an even deeper economic crisis.

The group includes shop owners, bar proprietors and restaurateurs, including some of the same Portland-based businesses that in March were among the first to publicly call for Mills to issue a statewide emergency order limiting gathering sizes and instituting emergency social distancing. Mills followed suit as infections surged throughout New England.

Until an “immediate testing option is available for any visitor,” the group said it is too soon to reopen Maine to tourists.

The letter came on the same day that Mills announced that the state would expand access for coronavirus testing. Starting this week, she said a coronavirus test will be given to any patient on a doctor’s order. The expansion, however, does not include testing for asymptomatic people who haven’t been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. In other words, testing is not yet available to anyone who wants it.

Monday was also the first day that restaurants in 12 of the state’s 16 counties were permitted to reopen for dine-in service, so long as they follow social distancing and other health guidelines. York and Cumberland counties are not among them.


“Southern Maine is irrefutably the most at-risk destination in the state,” the business owners wrote. “Many of us aren’t even sure we want to reopen when we’re permitted, let alone (know) how to do so. The travel quarantine is one of the only protections we feel allows us a fighting chance to maintain our low case numbers and to protect our workers and ourselves.”

The letter by the small business owners is in direct opposition to a plea by the Tourism Alliance, a super-group of other pro-tourism industry players that says it represents businesses that employ 110,000 workers, many in hospitality. The association issued its own plea last week asking the governor to lift the 14-day quarantine rule, saying the future of Maine’s billion-dollar tourism economy and thousands of jobs are at stake.

Their argument boils down, in part, to trusting Maine people and business owners to be responsible and follow social distancing guidelines meant to mitigate the virus’s spread.

“Maine’s businesses and industries are ready to be responsible,” The Tourism Alliance said. “And we, like you, are asking the people of Maine to be responsible. Now we need you to trust in our commitment to one another and let us be responsible.”

But that is the wrong advice, the Portland-based small-business owners said, calling for Mills to listen to the little guys before she makes a decision that could obliterate their future. They also questioned whether the Tourism Alliance actually represents small operators, and said their request to lift the out-of-state quarantine “goes against common sense and diligence we’ve all committed to the last two months.”

“We rarely get a seat at the decision-making table, yet we’re the most vulnerable to fiscal crises,” the small-business owners said in the letter. “We have done our parts as you asked. We closed our doors … we agreed to follow the science of the virus. Now we’re asking you to refute the voices calling for a faster reopening, and follow your own CDC guidelines.”


Erin Kiley, 37, who owns Portland Flea-For-All and wrote the letter to Mills, said she and her husband and business partner, Nathaniel Baldwin, closed their business before the state and the city mandated it because they recognized the community role that businesses play in modeling safe behavior. Since it opened in 2008, Flea-For-All has grown in popularity and now regularly attracts as many as 1,000 visitors per day, including tourists, during its busiest months.

Since she sent her letter Monday, Kiley said she received acknowledgement that Mills’ staff received it, but so far no one from the governor’s office has reached out. Mills’ office did not respond to a request for an interview about the competing missives.

Kiley said her message to Mills was a direct reaction to the Tourism Alliance’s letter.

“I was horrified by it,” Kiley said. “I started calling other business owners to see what was happening, and found we were united in our fear of opening too early, and that we could set ourselves back instead of forward.”

Kiley said she and others have come to trust Mills and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah for their record of using science as a guide for public policy, and believe that to keep that record alive, they must not give in to pressure that pits public health against the economy.

“Gov. Mills and the Maine CDC enacted the 14-day travel quarantine because it was in the best interest of Maine people,” Kiley said. “We shouldn’t have to choose between Maine businesses and public health. The two need to be rescued together. We need to follow the science.”


Shelley Stevens, 46, also signed the letter sent to Mills on Monday. She said she’s lived and worked in New England tourism towns for most of her life, and spent three decades in the restaurant world before she finally took the leap last September to open up her own flower business, Bloomers Custom Florals.

Stevens doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar location yet – she runs her business from her home in Portland – but said she has had to adapt all the same while following emergency guidelines. Rather than shut down completely, Stevens has stopped doing deliveries, and instead permits customers to pick up their arrangements, with most paying electronically – no human contact required.

She’s heard from customers and other business owners that it’s just too soon to fully reopen to tourism, and Stevens said she feels the same way.

“I think people need a stronger mentality of the safety of people over profits,” Stevens said. “As a business owner, I also understand that people are in a very hard spot. But I think public safety is the most important thing right now.”

Already, Mills is facing criticism from legislators and public health experts from outside the state, who say that her administration is ignoring her own science-based guidelines to reopening the economy that call for a steady, 14-day decline of case counts, enhanced testing for all at-risk workers, and a preemptive testing program to test asymptomatic people.

“If we are really going to bring our society back to normal and have a major reopening, we need to be having much broader testing for all people in public-facing roles so you can detect the asymptomatic folk,” Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, a retired physician who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, told the Maine Sunday Telegram. “If you can’t test a second-grader in their class, a grocery clerk and a fireman, I think we’re running a danger.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.