(The Center Square) – Maine Gov. Janet Mills has criticized Republican lawmakers for urging the state to lift restrictions on visitors from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But Republicans argued that opening the state was a responsible, necessary step.
State data shows that last year, 21 percent of Maine’s out-of-state visitors came from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
As of Wednesday, data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center showed Massachusetts with a test positivity rate of 2.6 percent and Rhode Island at 4.6 percent.
“Without a chance of salvaging part of the tourism season, businesses and livelihoods are being destroyed,” Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Lincoln, said at a news conference this week. “This plan responsibly allows residents from throughout New England into Maine without restrictions, which is in line with what every other state in New England is already doing. All the data that we see tells us that this is a move that can be done safely, and the tourism industry will have a fighting chance to finish out the season on an upswing.”
But Mills issued a news release that questioned the Republicans’ entreaty.
"For the life of me, I cannot understand why Republicans care more about Massachusetts money than the life of a Maine person," Mills said. "What the Republicans unveiled … is not a set of recommendations to salvage our tourism industry. It is a Donald Trump-style assault on the very public health measures that have successfully protected Maine people. It amounts to a Republican invitation for a resurgence of the virus"
Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, addressed some of the economic impact details at the news conference.
“You’ve seen the figures,” Stewart said. “Anywhere between a hit of 40 and 70 percent to Maine’s tourist-based economy this year resulting from a policy that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.”
Currently, the state is open to visitors from Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont, all of which are at 2.2 percent or below for positive COVID test rates.
“We’re making the pitch today, to all of Maine and a plea to those that are in charge politically, to please reopen Maine and our tourist-based economy to Massachusetts, which is a huge driver of our tourist-based economy,” Stewart said.
“We have a broad coalition of folks with us today, that are standing behind this plan and in support of it that is backed by science and data, and every other state in New England is actually supporting as well, and we believe that Maine should as well,” Stewart added.
The coalition includes HospitalityMaine, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine State Tourism Association, Retail Association of Maine, Maine Campground Owners Association, Maine Sporting Camps Association, Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, and many hotel operators across the state, Stewart said.