(AUGUSTA, ME) – Members of the group Work With ME applauded Maine Legislative Republicans for releasing a plan Monday that would – among other things – allow Massachusetts residents to visit Maine without restrictions as long as the COVID numbers remained low, as they have for weeks.. Other New England states have enacted a similar policy with no measurable uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. To date there have not been any travel related outbreaks in these states. Input to the Republican plan came from Maine citizens, small business owners, the Work With ME group, Hospitality Maine, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Tourism Association, Maine Sporting Camps Association, and many other trade associations and industry groups. Republicans made the case that tourism, and the thousands of people relying on it for their livelihood, is being deeply impacted by the restrictive measures against Massachusetts with no data or science to back them up.
Gov. Mills responded Monday by accusing Republicans of caring more about Massachusetts money than Maine lives. Work With ME is issuing the following response:
“It was so disappointing to read the Governor’s prepared statement earlier this week regarding the proposal to set a commonly used benchmark for visitation. Instead of taking the opportunity to finally be transparent and share the specific metrics as to why she won’t welcome Massachusetts visitors to our State, she felt it was more important to inject political rhetoric and partisan discourse. It could have been a unified and positive opportunity to safely transition into August with our number one visitor and repair some of the damage to our economy. Again, instead of providing all of the detail to the public she makes unfounded accusations. Based upon the Governor’s statement, we are left to wonder if the simple fact that Governor Baker is a Republican is the reason why his residents are not welcome. It wasn’t until her response that we realized just how much politics is involved in these decisions.
The numbers and the data back up the reasons why Massachusetts residents should be added to the exemption list. According to Johns Hopkins University, the latest 7-day average Positive Test Rate (PTR) for Massachusetts is 2.6%. That is well below the World Health Organization’s 5% threshold for states presenting low-to-moderate risk. Additionally, when New Hampshire was added to Maine’s exemption list on June 8th, that state’s PTR was 3.0%. Massachusetts has been below 3% for 6 weeks now. Visitation to Acadia National Park was down 57% in June. The economic damage that has been caused to businesses both locally and statewide is overwhelming.
The people of Maine have proven that we can operate hotels and restaurants safely, following the rules and serving responsibly. We can continue to keep our visitors, employees, and communities safe while we welcome visitors from Massachusetts. We also would point out that so many of our visitors cancelled their plans to visit Maine when the testing requirement was announced and rescheduled their vacations elsewhere. Those alternative locations surely would have seen measurable increases by now if the Governor was correct to discourage them from traveling here.
What we know about the people of Massachusetts is that they are just as concerned about being healthy as Mainers are. We see this through the remarkable job the state has done turning around their own numbers which even drew praise from Dr. Fauci. We also know that in a normal season, Massachusetts visitors to Maine account for anywhere between 40-60% of our tourism economy in a normal season. If we continue to discourage these generational customers from visiting we will see more small businesses close, see more Mainers out of work, and continue to permanently damage our industry.
Maine Republicans were wrongfully accused of playing politics with their plan to help save an industry that doesn’t know where to turn next. That’s unfortunate. It would be more unfortunate if politics are also playing a role in the governor’s decision to keep Massachusetts residents out of Maine.”
A group of hotel owners have been communicating with the Mills administration since the spring, aiming toward a responsible reopening plan for the tourism industry. Both the Mills administration and Work With ME have been leaning on state-by-state data for decision making. The concern of those involved in Work With ME is the ability to salvage some of Maine’s tourism season while balancing safety measures that would be necessary with visitors entering Maine.