Travelers entering Massachusetts from most other states must quarantine for 14 days or face a $500-a-day fine, under a tough new order that Governor Charlie Baker issued Friday in the hope of keeping at bay the coronavirus pandemic raging through much of the country.
The rules, which take effect Aug. 1, apply to vacationers, students returning to local colleges, and Massachusetts residents returning from out-of-state trips. But travelers from states deemed low-risk — currently most of the Northeast, plus Hawaii — and those who can document a negative COVID-19 test within the previous three days are exempt from the quarantine requirement.
The regulations represent a sharp escalation of efforts to maintain the low rates of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations that Massachusetts has achieved. Once one of the hardest-hit states during the pandemic, Massachusetts now reports that only 1.8 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive, according to the most recent seven-day average.
“Since March, the people of Massachusetts have made great sacrifice and shown great discipline,” Baker said at a State House news conference, “and as a result, our state has made great progress to control COVID-19.”
Now, he said, “Many people are traveling to and from Massachusetts for vacation or in some cases getting ready to come back to school. … Every traveler coming to Massachusetts, no matter where they’re from, has a responsibility to help keep COVID-19 out of the Commonwealth.”
But enforcement will largely lean on the honor system, according to Baker, who said he expects that “the vast majority of people” will adhere to the new order.
Dr. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called Baker’s executive order “absolutely the right approach.” Although he did not know of studies showing the effectiveness of such travel restrictions, Tsai said, “It makes epidemiological sense. It makes intuitive sense.”
Other states in the region have taken similar measures. New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey require travelers from states experiencing significant community spread of coronavirus to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and New York and Connecticut’s advisories come with fines of $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.
Since March, Baker had issued only travel “guidance,” with no threats of a fine, urging people to quarantine if they traveled from other states.
But he and Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, said state data showed travel picking up on the state’s roads and at Logan International Airport. More than 50 flights arrive each day from Texas, California, and Florida, where the virus has flared to dangerous levels and forced officials to pull back on their reopening plans.
“Our goal is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as out-of-state travel increases,” said Pollack. “All such travelers have a responsibility to help the Commonwealth keep transmission levels as low as possible.”
Before arrival in the state, visitors must fill out and submit online a “Massachusetts Travel Form,” which can be found at www.mass.gov/MAtraveler or by texting “MATraveler” to 888-777.
Local boards of health, or the state contact tracing collaborative, will monitor those in quarantine. Residents can report suspected violators to the board of health, which will levy any fines.
Hotels and Airbnb hosts will be responsible for notifying visitors of the rules.
“The goal here is to rely on what we’ve relied on from the beginning, which is that people, generally speaking, follow the rules,” Baker said.
Currently, people from these “lower-risk” states are exempt from the quarantine requirement: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. Any changes to the list will be posted at: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-travel-order#lower-risk-states-
Visitors from other states can skip the quarantine if they can provide, upon request, proof of a negative coronavirus test administered within 72 hours of arrival in Massachusetts.
Eligible tests involve obtaining a sample collected from someone’s nose, either a PCR or antigen test. However, a negative antigen test result will need to be confirmed by a PCR. Antibody tests, which are done on a blood sample, are not acceptable. The Department of Public Health advises people planning on traveling into Massachusetts to seek advice from their health care provider on the correct type of test.
Exemptions are also allowed for people passing through the state, commuting across state lines for work, traveling to Massachusetts for medical treatment, or complying with military orders.
The order also strongly discourages employers from allowing business-related travel outside of the lower-risk states, and requires them to ensure employees comply with the quarantine if they do such traveling.
The travel rules are likely to have the biggest effect on the tourism industry and higher education, but faced little pushback from either group.
Richard J. Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, said the order “builds upon the robust testing procedures and strong public health policies that colleges and universities are implementing to support a healthy and safe campus environment.”
Across Massachusetts, colleges have come up with a variety of reopening plans, many involving the return of limited numbers of students to campus. Most include some kind of testing requirement that will exempt most students from the quarantine.
Northeastern University, for example, plans to test 5,000 students a day and process the tests at its own laboratory in Burlington, expecting a 24-hour turnaround, said Michael Armini, senior vice president for external affairs. More than 500 dorm rooms have been set aside to isolate students who test positive.
“Because the new guidance allows a negative test to negate the quarantine, we expect to be in very good shape,” Armini said.
Similarly, Boston University plans screening, testing, and contact tracing protocols for students, faculty, and staff. “We’re very supportive of Governor Baker’s executive order, and our testing and quarantine plans are consistent with it,” said BU spokesman Colin D. Riley in an email.
Cambridge’s mayor, Sumbul Siddiqui, said she believes the governor’s rule is smart.
“The more precautions we have, the better, and I’m glad we’re being very cautious here,” Siddiqui said. “It could be very easy for someone coming from a non-low-risk state, flying in from Mississippi, and there being an outbreak.”
As for tourism, leaders of the industry in the Boston area and on Cape Cod said that most visitors to Massachusetts come from the low-risk states and thus are exempt from the quarantine.
Martha Sheridan, the chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she doesn’t expect a profound impact on the existing flow of tourism, but the travel rules will set back efforts to attract visitors who don’t live within driving distance of Boston.
“If more of the country had followed the protocols we put in place early on, [maybe] we could have avoided this type of scenario and [seen] an economic recovery come a bit sooner,” Sheridan said.
Wendy Northcross, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said the requirements could deter the motorcoach visitors who tend to come for short visits in the fall.
“I wouldn’t say we’re not worried,” Northcross added. The uncertainty from changing directives “is very hard for businesses to manage,” she said.
Cape Cod home owners whose renters are coming from the non-exempt states will probably return the deposits and have no trouble refilling the slot, said Joan Talmadge of WeNeedaVacation.com, which advertises Cape rentals. “There’s been just such a demand,” she said. “Our site has just been exploding with activity.”
At the news conference, Baker criticized the crowding at M Street Beach in Boston last weekend, saying that if people can’t distance from each other and wear face coverings, “we’ll have to limit the number of people who can be there.”
Currently, the state limits indoor gatherings to 25 people and gatherings in enclosed spaces outdoors to 100 people.
Jon Chesto, Christina Prignano, Laura Krantz, and Felice Belman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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