Welcome back, Massachusetts. Your friends in Maine are ready to see you again.

The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of us. When the coronavirus hit in March, our governor declared a public health emergency, and instituted a series of measures to stop the spread of the virus, including one that required all out-of-state visitors except for essential workers to quarantine for two weeks after their arrival.

That rule was relaxed in June, when Gov. Mills said visitors could come if they had received a negative COVID test within three days of arriving. The rule was relaxed further, when Maine officials said visitors could come from states that had very low rates of infection – and though the list included New York and New Jersey, sadly, Massachusetts wasn’t on it.

Believe us, this probably hurt us a lot more than it hurt you. Our economy depends on tourism, and our neighbors in Massachusetts are some of our most reliable visitors. Lodging and accommodations were down nearly $100 million, or 40 percent, in July, according to Maine Revenue Services. Restaurant sales were down another $100 million, or 30 percent. Retail sales were also off. This punches a $34 million in the state budget, and threatened the livelihood of hundreds of small businesses and their employees. You have to believe us, we wouldn’t have told you to stay away if we didn’t have a good reason.

Early in the pandemic, Massachusetts was a hot spot for COVID transmission, averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day in late April to early May.

Maine, meanwhile, has been able to maintain the third lowest number of infections in the nation. That has held true even after an outbreak started at an Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket, at which guests did not follow the state’s guidance on the size of the gathering and precautions around mask wearing. There were only 65 people at the indoor reception, but COVID cases connected to the event in three counties have resulted in 176 getting sick and seven deaths. Maine residents and business owners who strictly followed the state’s public health protocols kept incidents like that from being repeated all over the state.

We know that not everyone followed the rules this summer. We could see the Massachusetts license plates on the Maine Turnpike, in beach parking lots and outside popular restaurants. We have reasonably good suspicion that not everyone had gotten a COVID test or spent two weeks in quarantine before showing up to have fun.

But we also heard from heartbroken Massachusetts residents who said they had spent every summer of their lives in Maine and were disappointed that they could not make the trip this year because they could not meet the guidelines. We’re sorry to lose the company of people who care enough about other people’s health that they follow the rules even when it disadvantages them. Good behavior in your state has brought down the transmission rates to the point that we can reopen the gates and welcome you with open arms (at a safe distance).

The coronavirus pandemic has been unlike anything anyone now living has ever seen. Nationwide, we are on pace to count a quarter million deaths before the end of the year, and a potential vaccine is still months away from wide distribution. The only way to keep the disease from spreading is to wash our hands frequently, avoid crowds (especially indoors), maintain safe distances and cover our faces when that’s not possible.

But at least for now, it’s safe for people from Massachusetts to come to Maine, just as it will be OK for Mainers to make a trip south. We hope there are no hard feelings.

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