Tradition tells us that Maine’s summer tourism season begins on Memorial Day weekend, but common sense tells us that this summer won’t be anything like what we’ve seen in the past.

Because of the global coronavirus pandemic, key attractions, like state beaches and Acadia National Park are closed to visitors. Parades, concerts and festivals that draw big crowds have been canceled.

And, most controversially, out-of-state visitors are required to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days before going out in Maine. Since most visits to Maine are much shorter than two weeks in length, this alone could spell disaster for the state’s $6.5 billion industry.

A month ago we encouraged the state to work with the hospitality industry on salvaging at least part of the season by finding a way to relax the 14-day rule. But with the season now here, it’s clear that there is no magic trick that will bring back 2019 levels of visitors. We need federal disaster relief for the businesses and workers hit hardest by this public health catastrophe because there is no way that many of these businesses will survive otherwise.

This problem cannot be fixed simply by lifting regulations. “Reopen the economy” might look good on a poster, but in Maine what you are really saying is reopen the border and let the out-of-state visitors back in, without restriction.

The fact that Maine has not been hit as hard by COVID-19 as some other states is not a reason to lift the quarantine limit. Maine caught a break with the timing of the COVID crisis. It hit in March and April, the slowest time for tourist visits. As a result, we have so far escaped the worst-case scenarios of overwhelmed health care systems. Maine’s infection rate is low, but that doesn’t mean that we are safe.


Maine’s population is 1.3 million, but we host 37 million visitors every year, with two-thirds arriving between May and September. The bulk of those visitors come from the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have been epicenters of infection throughout the spring. The key measurement of safety is not the number of cases that exist here now, but the number of cases that exist in the home states of our visitors.

This can’t be welcome news in places like Old Orchard Beach or Bar Harbor, which depend on big crowds packing the attractions all summer long, but without a vaccine or an effective treatment, it is too big a risk for the people who work in those businesses and who have to come in close contact with many visitors who could infect them.

Other tourist-dependent areas, like Florida and Georgia, have decided to take the risk and open up while the virus is still spreading. It’s too soon to say if people there will get lucky or suffer the consequences of a deadly second wave. Some, like Hawaii, have taken even stricter measures than Maine, arresting visitors who stray out of their hotel rooms before their 14-day quarantine is complete.

But no one has come up with a practical alternative for a state like Maine, where most visitors come from COVID-19 hot spots. Barring a last-minute miracle, Maine needs to figure out how the industry will still be around when the current crisis is over.

That will take federal aid.

A next round of COVID relief is in the works, and Maine’s delegation should make sure that it includes a lifeline for an industry that generates a full 10 percent of our economic output.

Memorial Day this year marks the start of a summer tourist season unlike any we have ever seen. It will take help from Washington to make sure this unprecedented shock doesn’t cause permanent damage.

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