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Baker relaxes self-quarantine guidance for people arriving from nearby states as Mass. reports zero new COVID-19 deaths

Governor Charlie Baker spoke at a news conference at the State House on Tuesday.
Governor Charlie Baker spoke at a news conference at the State House on Tuesday.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he is relaxing the state’s self-quarantine guidance for potentially millions of out-of-state visitors, exempting people arriving from seven Northeast states that are making progress in the battle against the coronavirus.

The decision to ease guidance came as Massachusetts officials hit a new milestone in the pandemic, reporting zero new COVID-19 deaths for the first time since March. State health officials also reduced by 41 the state’s total number of confirmed and probable deaths to 8,054, citing the removal of duplicate death reports.

The number of newly reported cases ticked up by 114 on Tuesday, putting the total statewide at 108,882.

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The new data and Baker’s announcement that he is loosening the travel guidance on nearby states created a strange split screen with other parts of the country, where several states, from California to Texas, are enacting new restrictions amid catastrophic increases in infections.

And even as Baker eases the guidance for people traveling from New York, New Jersey, and the five other New England states, many are tightening their own travel guidelines. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday expanded to 16 the number of states from which travelers are required to quarantine for 14 days if they come to New York. New Jersey and Connecticut officials are also advising travelers from 16 states to do so.

Under Baker’s advisory, which takes effect Wednesday, visitors to Massachusetts from the seven states will not be urged to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Baker said officials from Massachusetts’ lodging industry had raised concerns that his initial advisory, in place since March 27, was deterring people from making reservations in hotels.

The 14-day quarantine guidelines will remain in place for visitors from 42 other states, and include no fines or penalties. But the revised guidance specifically caters to a set of regional travelers who normally drive state tourism. In fiscal year 2019, about 11.8 million travelers from those seven Northeast states visited Massachusetts, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all out-of-state domestic visitors, state data show.

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“These surrounding states, like Massachusetts, are seeing a significant decline in cases and new hospitalizations,” Baker said Tuesday at the State House. “We believe this change reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with the Commonwealth’s approach to COVID-19 standards generally.”

Baker relaxes Mass. travel advisory
On Tuesday, Governor Baker said that visitors from other Northeast states will not be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days when they come to Massachusetts. (Photo: Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff, Video: Handout)

Baker reiterated that he believes there are legal limits on setting mandated restrictions on travelers from other states, citing what he called “real constitutional issues associated with limiting travel between states.”

Neither Baker nor his office would elaborate. The Republican governor also noted that all people who have COVID-19 symptoms are instructed not to travel to the state.

Several other states, however — including some affected by his new guidelines — have threaded new restrictions into their own guidelines for many out-of-state visitors, including attaching hefty fines.

The governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut first announced last week their advisories for travelers from states with high infection rates, including those with new daily positive test rates higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or from states with a 10 percent or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. In New York, violators could face fines up to $10,000.

In Rhode Island, visitors coming from states with a 5 percent positivity rate will have to either quarantine for 14 days or receive a negative test result within three days of their arrival. Likewise, Rhode Islanders who visit those states — there were 18 as of Monday, plus Puerto Rico — will have to quarantine when they return or be tested for COVID-19, Governor Gina Raimondo announced Monday.

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Raimondo’s order is similar to rules in Maine, where visitors must quarantine for two weeks or test negative from a specimen taken no more than 72 hours before they arrive. The Maine order, however, does not apply to those coming from New Hampshire or Vermont.

Daniel Farbman, an assistant law professor at Boston College, said there are “undoubtedly constitutional concerns” with such orders. But he said they don’t create a firm barrier for Baker or other governors to impose such restrictions in the name of public safety.

“In the context of a pandemic, it just seems like there’s a very strong argument to be made that protecting the health of the state’s residents is a compelling state interest,” Farbman said. “There’s an atmospheric anxiety around this kind of thing that I think he’s responding to. It’s not a cut-and-dry constitutional answer.”

The Northeast is doing better than other parts of the country in battling the virus, but there is rising concern about the increasingly ferocious spread in at least 30 other states, particularly in the South and West.

Baker said the rising numbers elsewhere are evidence of places “where people have let down their guard and the virus has come roaring back.”

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“I think continued vigilance with this is the way you contain it,” he said.

Baker’s announcement was cheered by those in the hotel industry, where Paul Sacco, executive director of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, a trade group, said Tuesday that there’s “a lot of pent-up demand.”

“The New England states, and New York and New Jersey, domestically are the key feeder markets,” Sacco said. “That’s where the bulk of the domestic travel business is coming from. And it’s quite substantial.”

Travel to Massachusetts has dramatically declined in other ways. Data released by the Massachusetts Port Authority show that roughly 203,000 passengers traveled through Logan Airport in May, a 95 percent decline from the 3.8 million it saw the previous May.

According to Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan, there have been signs about self-quarantining up at Logan since Baker first made the announcement.

She said the signs include fliers that passengers can take, and are positioned in spots where people can see them, like when leaving the terminal or heading to baggage claim.

Baker said officials would continue to monitor data as the state pursues a phased reopening plan. He allowed indoor dining to restart on June 22, and has said his administration is going to want at least two weeks’ worth of data on the state’s progress before moving to the next phase of reopening, which could include fitness centers, museums, some parts of casinos, and movie theaters.


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“Generally speaking, we’ve tried to stick to our knitting with respect to the data and our decision-making,” Baker said. “In some of the states, it’s not just an issue of what the guidance was. In some states, it’s an issue with respect to whether anybody complied with anything in the first place.”

In Massachusetts, he said, the “overwhelming majority of employers, local communities, and individuals have complied with the guidance.”

Steve Annear, Martin Finucane, and Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout