A Common Sense Plan to Reopen Maine Tourism
We have a reopen plan with health & safety as our top priority.
Maine CAN Re-Open To Visitors Safely.
First and Foremost, A Balanced and SAFE Plan
Ultimately, we all want the same things. To save jobs. To preserve Maine’s tourism economy. And to salvage some of our all-too-short summer tourism season. These wants are balanced with the want — the need – to keep our visitors, staff, and communities as safe and healthy as possible.
The plan that has been issued by the state simply cannot achieve those things.
Asking visitors to comply with the state’s plan means placing burdensome and sometimes impossible testing requirements on tourists, simply for the opportunity to visit our state. It also puts abnormally high levels of healthcare responsibility on hospitality workers, who would now be asked to essentially verify test results.
This isn’t fair. It’s not workable. And it doesn’t help ensure safety beyond the plan that was presented by Work With ME to the administration earlier this month. Rather, it will result in more closed businesses, more lost jobs, and a industry on the verge of a catastrophic collapse.
Meanwhile, we have a re-open plan that works. Starting with best practices to ensure safety for visitors, staff, and the citizens of Maine.
- Reservations – on-line and call ahead requested, walk-ins allowed with social distancing protocols.
- Staffing – masks and gloves required
- Enhanced Room Sanitation – following every use, all hard surfaced cleaned and sanitized; all linens, bedspreads and covers laundered
- Distancing – maintain 6 feet in all public areas and at check in
- Pools, Exercise Facilities, Spas – allowed with enhanced sanitation and appropriate CDC approved procedures
- Hotel Restaurants – following state guidelines on phased-in openings for restaurants, room service encouraged
- Breakfast – no buffets (unless packaged ‘grab and go’), no self service until further notice
- Travel – visitation allowed for out of state guests, subject to pre-arrival communications and social distancing protocols
- Weddings and Group Functions – gradually increase gatherings to capacity as allowed by maintaining social distancing protocols
The Challenge of Visitor Testing…And A Possible Solution
The ability to establish pre-travel testing as a requirement to enter the State of Maine is highly problematic for legal, ethical, operational, and practical reasons. These include:
- The State will not be able to control ingress;
- There are major legal, ethical, and practical physical barriers to any attempt to test non-residents attempting to enter the state;
- The availability to get tested without symptoms is not universally available outside of Maine;
- The ability to ensure the efficacy of testing outside of the State of Maine, and the verification that presented test results are valid, is not possible;
- The cost for a family of four to get tested before traveling is anywhere for $480 – $600 before even packing the first suitcase; and
- Any word of an initiative of this sort would, for all intents and purposes, likely forego anyone’s interest in trying to enter the state.
For this reason, Work With ME would like the State of Maine to immediately coordinate with other New England states and commence a communications campaign focused around the message of “Know Before You Go.” This campaign would emphasize that New England has some of the nation’s most pristine beaches, beautiful vistas, historical sites, and urban excitement, but in order to ensure the health of travelers and residents and to ensure the successful reopening of the economy, travelers are encouraged to take a test to know if they carry the virus before they travel.
The “Safety Net”
It can generally be assumed that under any circumstances, the reopening of the State of Maine’s economy, including the influx of millions of out-of-state visitors will result in some increased exposure and viral shedding in the State of Maine. This is unavoidable. This is why this proposed plan (in concert with measures already being planned and implemented in the State of Maine) provides a robust and systemic approach to supporting Maine’s ability to rapidly identify and mitigate infections that may occur as a means of limiting community spread. This provides the State with the robust “safety net” that it is looking for. The proposal includes:
- Worker Testing in the Hospitality Industry: The hospitality industry is the front- line of contact with out-of-state visitors. As such, the industry is willing to strongly encourage testing of front line hospitality workers through an initial PCR test, with follow-on testing at regular intervals using a rapid assay test at a designated “point-of-care” to address continued health of the work force and early detection of virus infection.
- Availability of Public Testing: In addition to facilitating visitors to take greater responsibility for personal and public health, the availability of testing (above) also provides the State with rapid and easy-access capability to obtain results for anyone who either shows symptoms or who may have been exposed to someone who did have COVID-19. Making the testing of anyone free and widely available will facilitate the State’s mission to collect as much data as possible for reporting on the State- and national-level impact of the coronavirus. The State can prioritize and utilize available Federal funding to invest in a significant number of rapid assay serologic antigenic test kits that provide results of active viral presence within 15 minutes, are relatively inexpensive, and have a high confidence rate. These tests will be critical in maintaining a healthy workforce and will help ensure the continued health of people in the State.
- Expand Syndromic Surveillance: We recommend focusing infection identification efforts on ongoing and well understood syndromic surveillance capabilities and methodologies. This would provide identification of potential “hot spots” early in the process, which would allow mitigation measures to be put into place to reduce virus spread.
- Contact Tracing with Testing: We acknowledge and endorse the use of the Sara Alert capability for contract tracing. This approach, along with antigenic testing for all individuals identified as having had contact with those testing positive, is recommended. This can occur using either the State-controlled gold-standard PCR testing or via testing conducted via rapid assay for either hospitality industry workers or any others who decide to use either voluntary testing protocols.
- Stockpiling of Resources: As part of a larger initiative, the State should consider leveraging funding from the CARES Act, FEMA, and the CMS to procure and stockpile additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical health care support commodities (e.g., ventilators) commensurate with the potential demand associated with the increase in the State’s summer season population for all relevant first responder, medical, and public health personnel to deal with any potential outbreaks or COVID-19 spikes that may that may occur.
- Protecting Essential State Medical Surge Capacity: In comparison to other regional New England states, the overall health care capacity for Maine is relatively sparse, designed to address the needs of the resident population only. It is also largely centered in the most populous urban areas of the State. Given that structure, protecting available health care infrastructure—especially as it relates to any any sudden and intense increases in surge demands as a result from unexpected coronavirus blooms during the high tourist season—will be particularly important. To that end, the State should continue with plans to maintain and utilize alternate care sites (ACS) and any additional rapidly deployable hospital surge capacity platforms such as the Federal Medical Shelters (FMS), available National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) platforms, or State National Guard military field hospital facilities.
- Communications Plan: An active and extremely forward-leaning public health messaging campaign—aimed at the totality of residents who occupy the state during the high summer seasons (i.e., whether permanent state residents, summer vacationers, or hospitality industry)—is highly recommended. This fundamental in- state messaging campaign is different than the Northeast region “Know Before You Go” campaign described above, although messaging should be consistent.
- “Other” Health Care and Public Health Preparedness Issues Related to the COVID-19 Response: The aforementioned recommendations represent four of the “Eight Pillars of Catastrophic Casualty Event Management” developed during national-level planning initiatives for high-intensity incidents of national significance. The State should consider implementation of the above recommendations in coordination with existing plans to address the remaining four “pillars” (i.e., mass fatality management planning; psychosocial support to affected populations and essential workforce personnel; identifying and managing special needs populations; and ensuring the graceful degradation of the medical standard of care during crisis conditions). This will ensure comprehensive planning is accommodated to facilitate a successful incident management mission.
The Current Plan is Not Workable.
The current re-open plan from the state does not work.
It is an experiment that will prove costly and irreparable Maine’s tourism industry. Thousands of workers and hundreds of small businesses will continue to suffer, close, or lose much-needed jobs forever.
Why? Here’s a few examples:
- Many vacationers to Maine make the decision based on weather and on a spur-of-the-moment decision. If a family lives in Massachusetts, they can no longer check the weather on Thursday, and expect to spend Friday – Sunday in Maine – even if this family lives in an area of Massachusetts with a low positivity rate and number of cases. Instead, they will have to account for time to get tested, receive the results, and make travel arrangements. This creates a new set of burdens that will absolutely affect thousands of decisions to visit this state.
- Someone who lives in one state and makes sales calls in another state are now facing uncertainty about their ability to vacation in Maine. Uncertainty leads to altering plans, leaving Maine with fewer and fewer visitors.
- The state’s plan asks hospitality workers to make the final determination if a visitor has taken a COVID-19 test or not, and if it has come back negative. It is unfair to hardworking Mainers to expect them to collect people’s medical records in exchange for a hotel room. HIPPA violations carry serious penalties including fines and jail time.
- The state’s plan assumes that regular, non symptomatic individuals can freely be tested. By the state’s plan, those seeking to travel to Maine who do not live in NH or VT must either quarantine for 14 days, or be tested for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, and produce a negative test result. Other states likely have not intended the resources they have worked hard to secure be used for an experimental travel requirement.
A Holistic Solution
Together, the approaches outlined above help to encourage greater personal responsibility and involvement of the Summer traveler in ensuring both their own health and that of the communities they visit while on vacation.
It also provides an “early warning” capability that tests those in Maine who have greatest exposure risk from out-of-state travelers, and supports the State’s ability to mitigate new infections before they become new viral outbreaks.