Some of you may not be ready to emerge from the panic room, pillow fort, or root cellar where you sought refuge as the world turned into a Connie Willis novel this spring. I hear you loud and clear. So far 2020 hasn’t exactly been a stroll through the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm.
But for those ready to emerge and plan a getaway, a word of warning: Putting together a New England vacation this summer will require patience, phone calls, and a bit of Jessica Fletcher-style sleuthing.
In the same way that every state in the country came up with its own plan for closing to slow the spread of COVID-19, they’re now opening in the same shambolic manner. That means some New England states are inviting visitors (Rhode Island), while others are clearly not (Maine). And then there’s Massachusetts, with rules and restrictions that are about as clear as swamp.
Other states around country are also at various stages of opening to travelers, but because most surveys (including one we conducted last month) found that people are looking to vacation locally this summer, we’re going to focus on New England states. Also, please remember that dates and rules are subject to change depending on the track of the virus.
“It’s been something that we’re keeping tabs on every day,” said Rob Blood, the founder and chief executive officer of Lark Hotels, a boutique chain that has properties in every New England state but Connecticut. “But it’s a real challenge. The end zone keeps moving. We’re planning and planning openings, and then we learn something new and we have to push it back in again.”
Quarantining is not required for people coming in from out-of-state. Hotels will reopen on June 20. State beaches and state parks are open for “solitary recreation." Gatherings are restricted to no more than 10 people inside and no more than 25 outside. When in public and a six-foot distance is unavoidable, face coverings are required to be worn.
Unless you own a home there, vacationing in Maine is not an option in the immediate future. According to Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, out-of-state residents who either own a second home or a seasonal campsite can now come to the state and begin quarantining for two weeks. Lyons said he anticipates that out-of-state visitors can stay at hotels, rental properties, and campgrounds beginning July 1. But those out-of-state visitors must also quarantine for two weeks when they arrive. That means a vacation in Maine this summer can’t begin until July and the first two weeks must be spent in quarantine.
Tourists who violate the order can be sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000. Lodging businesses that violate the order can lose their licenses.
“While visitors should not go to the grocery store, dine-in restaurants, or other public gathering places, they can go for a walk around the block, take a hike, or relax in an Adirondack chair and watch the sunset,” Lyons said of the Maine quarantine order. “They just need to do these things while maintaining at least six feet between themselves and people not in their travel party.”
The policy has not been popular with many in the state’s hospitality industry. Last month owners of several southern Maine businesses sued to lift the requirement. A federal judge upheld the quarantine order despite the US Justice Department’s argument that the rule is discriminatory.
Like Maine, visitors to Massachusetts are being asked to quarantine for two weeks when they arrive. However, unlike Maine, they are allowed to quarantine in hotels and rentals. Under the current timeline, hotels and rentals will likely open June 8. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of penalty or policing of the two-week quarantine. Some of the state’s largest hospitality organizations and hotel operators said they are unsure how the self-policing quarantine order will work. Additionally, the two-week quarantine order applies to Massachusetts residents as well as visitors. If a resident of the Commonwealth visits Newport or Mystic for the day, theoretically they should quarantine for two weeks upon their return.
According to Mike Verseckes from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, quarantining is the responsibility of travelers. Hotels are required to tell guests about self-quarantining when they check-in and check out, but other than that there are no guidelines and no rules are in place regarding the length of reservations.
“I know that they don’t expect hoteliers to enforce or police the issue,” said Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of clarity around it.”
A few quick calls to some Massachusetts hotels showed that there is a fair amount of confusion around the issue of out-of-state guests. One hotel on Cape Cod said the order meant that people should quarantine at home for two weeks before coming to Massachusetts (false). A Boston hotel said guests were on the “quarantine honor system” (true) and a hotel in western Massachusetts said they were requiring a minimum two-week reservation (not enforced).
Although the rules are a bit vague, Sheridan said cleaning procedures and regulations for hotels reopening are anything but. She said those traveling to the state should feel safe in hotels here.
“It’s not going to be Lake of the Ozarks here,” she said, referring to the unchecked crowds that mobbed the Missouri resort Memorial Day weekend.
Currently the state has a policy called safer-in-place, which asks residents to “leave home only for healthcare, worship, and permitted work, shopping, and outdoor activities.” Residents are required to cover their face when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public.
If you’re visiting New Hampshire from out of state for an overnight trip (or longer), you’re required to provide signed documentation stating that you quarantined at home for 14-day days before arriving. That means when you arrive at your hotel or short-term rental, you sign a form stating you are not exhibiting symptoms of the virus and you’ve been at home for two weeks prior to visiting. You don’t need to provide proof of the quarantine. Golf courses and campgrounds are only open to New Hampshire residents. Most outdoor attractions, such as beaches and parks, are open at limited capacity. As of June 5, beaches are open for sports, sunbathing, and picnicking. Parking remains limited, and groups must stay 6 feet apart from each other.
Most New Hampshire state parks are open, but facilities such as restrooms and visitors centers are not generally open. It’s requested that you obtain a day pass before visiting a state park.
Unless you’re coming from a state where a stay-at-home order is in effect, such as New Hampshire, out-of-state residents can stay in Rhode Island hotels, although many hotels have yet to open for the season. Ocean House in Watch Hill opens June 16, but you can currently reserve at establishments such as Gurney’s Newport or Hotel Viking. Beaches and parks have reopened with limited capacity, although beach showers will remain closed. The Roger Williams Park Zoo has also reopened. Restaurants, cafés, bars, and have reopened with dining rooms at 50-percent seating capacity.
According to the state’s official tourism website, any resident or nonresident, traveling into Vermont for anything other than an essential purpose, must immediately self-quarantine according to the requirements outlined by the Vermont Department of Health. Residents of New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Detroit, and Chicago are asked not to visit.
Much like Maine, the quarantine can’t be completed at a commercial lodging establishment, short-term rental, campground, or marina. Lodging management may require a copy of a Vermont driver’s license or a signed document stating that they meet the quarantine requirement. That requirement remains in effect through June 15. So far Vermont Governor Phil Scott has not indicated when it will be lifted.