A sole beachgoer relaxes at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Many states including Maine have insisted that residents of other states who want to visit quarantine themselves for 14 days, severely limiting the tourist industry. Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include news from West Virginia.
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Ken Mason is in the ninth generation of his family to run the Seaside Inn in Kennebunk Beach, Maine. He’s worried he might be the last.
What’s got him concerned are the COVID-19 rules that Maine and many other states have put in place requiring visitors from other states to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive. That won’t work for Mason. His average visitor stays three and a half days; that’s typical for tourist rentals. Mason is now limited to hosting only Maine residents or out-of-staters who agreed to quarantine for the two weeks.
All over the country, states have instituted the two-week quarantine for hotels, inns, golf courses and other amenities to stop people from states with high COVID-19 infection rates from bringing the virus with them, sickening local residents and overwhelming medical facilities.
But the requirements are devastating for people who rely on rental income from out-of-state tourists, especially those in New England or other northern climes with very short summer seasons. Even if visitors stay with a friend or relative, the 14-day quarantine means they can’t shop or go out for curbside pickup dining.
“It’s basically shut us down for the summer,” Mason said in a phone interview from his hotel near Gooch Beach, named for Mason’s wife’s ancestor Jedidiah Gooch, who ran the hotel (founded in 1660) beginning in 1756.
Mason tallied up the number of visitors from Maine last summer: nine. Most of his guests come from Massachusetts and New York — states with high numbers of coronavirus cases. He understands the reasons for the quarantine (he’s thinking about moving into the hotel to protect his own family from the few visitors who might come carrying the disease), but it’s killing his business.
Thirty states, from Maine to Montana, have instituted either a mandatory or recommended 14-day quarantine, including tourist destinations such as Arizona, Florida, Nevada and South Carolina. The rules are subject to change, however, and some states have begun to loosen other restrictions. South Carolina, for example, has allowed some beach access subject to local orders.
Maine recently allowed hotels and inns to start taking reservations again (they had been blocked) for after June 1. But the state’s two-week quarantine remains.
The varying state rules can be confusing for travelers, as well as impractical for hotels, said Jan L. Jones, professor of hospitality and tourism at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
“A lot of these smaller businesses don’t have travelers for more than a few days at a time,” she said in a phone interview. “People don’t go to Maine to sit in a hotel room. There has to be a clearer message for how the whole industry can work together. Can I go to a local restaurant for pickup?”
According to the guidelines: no, at least not in Maine. But the question remains: Can a hotel open a self-contained restaurant? Can guests order takeout — at least back to their room?
Questions like these have thrown the travel industry for a loop, along with everything else associated with COVID-19.
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