A federal appeals court has upheld Maine’s quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bayley’s Camping Resort in Scarborough is one of four businesses that sued Gov. Janet Mills over her order for out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In April, Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order that required most travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in Maine. The owners of two campgrounds and two residents, as well as three people who wanted to travel between Maine and New Hampshire, quickly sued the governor in federal court. They argued in part that the rule infringed upon their constitutional right to travel freely between states.

The plaintiffs asked a judge in the U.S. District Court of Maine to grant them emergency relief by blocking the quarantine rule. The judge denied that request in May, and the plaintiffs took their case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. A panel of judges affirmed the lower court’s decision Tuesday.

As the case proceeded, Mills created exemptions and modified her order several times. The current requirement is that most out-of-state visitors need to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their arrival or quarantine for 10 days once they get here. While residents from several states in the region were exempt over the summer, only people coming from New Hampshire and Vermont can bypass that requirement now.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office represented the state in the case.

“At a time when little was known about the COVID-19 virus except that it was deadly and easily spread by asymptomatic individuals, the Governor sensibly required that most people entering Maine self-quarantine for fourteen days,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a written statement. “This measure was necessary not only to prevent the spread of the virus, but also to protect Maine’s health care system, which is designed for a population of 1.3 million residents but which easily could have been overwhelmed in the face of a seasonal influx of many times that number. We are gratified that the court, in upholding the quarantine requirement, thoughtfully considered the scientific and medical evidence we submitted and correctly recognized that Maine’s goals were compelling and that the requirement was carefully tailored to advancing those goals.”

A spokeswoman for the governor shared a written statement about the court’s opinion.

“The Governor is grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for its vigorous defense of this necessary and effective public health measure,” Lindsay Crete wrote in an email.

While the appeals court rejected the call for emergency relief, the underlying case is still open in the lower court, and attorney Tyler Smith said the plaintiffs are considering their next steps. The businesses are Bayley’s Camping Resort in Scarborough and Little Ossipee Lake Campground in Waterboro, as well as the owner of two restaurants patronized primarily by those staying at Bayley’s.

“We are proud of the courage that Bayley’s Campground showed by challenging the 14-day quarantine mandate,” Smith wrote in an email. “The District Court’s decision described the case as a civil rights action that has potential, and the Governor relaxed the 14-day quarantine on the heels of that observation. It was also one of the very first decisions in the nation to conclude that courts cannot give special deference to the government when COVID-19 restrictions infringe on constitutional rights.”

Mills has faced other federal lawsuits over her COVID-19 orders.

An Orrington church sued the governor over restrictions on religious gatherings, and a federal judge denied their motion for emergency relief. The plaintiffs appealed and argued their case before the First Circuit. A panel of judges dismissed the appeal last month for lack of jurisdiction. The case also remains open at the lower court, and the governor is due to file an answer to the complaint next month.

A group of businesses also filed a federal lawsuit over restrictions on their operations during the pandemic. The judge dismissed their case, and some plaintiffs filed an appeal to the First Circuit. But they withdrew their appeal in November before they filed briefs because the litigation on COVID-19 restrictions had “evolved significantly.” But the attorney who represented them said he was looking for other cases to challenge the governor’s actions.

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