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EDITORIAL

Massachusetts travel restrictions lack teeth

By contrast, Maine has made its entire lodging industry the primary enforcers of its policy.

Is it too much to ask to have travel restrictions that are more than a vague hope that people will “do the right thing” — because, well, the governor asked them to?
Is it too much to ask to have travel restrictions that are more than a vague hope that people will “do the right thing” — because, well, the governor asked them to?Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

COVID-19 has made this the summer of the staycation for many. But popular tourist destinations — like Maine and Massachusetts — have now littered the usual welcome mat with new travel forms for out-of-towners coming from higher risk states.

That’s totally appropriate: the pandemic is creeping back into New England, to the point that on Friday Governor Charlie Baker announced the state was tightening some restrictions on gatherings and freezing the reopening process. Against that backdrop, making sure that tourists, especially from hard-hit areas, don’t import coronavirus makes sense.

So why is it that Maine’s restrictions — which, yes, even apply to nearby Massachusetts — are inspiring a healthy level of respect, visitors arriving with current COVID-19 test results in hand — while reaction to Massachusetts’ travel “ban” is still in the “yeah, whatever” stage?

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Sure, the form is the form — nothing magical there. And Baker’s office says 38,000 forms have already been received. The policies of the two states sound pretty much the same (although Maine has been operating under its policy for more than a month). Anyone coming from a higher-risk state (Rhode Island just got added to the list) must either quarantine for 14 days or be prepared to show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

There are ample sensible exemptions ― commuters, military personnel, those seeking medical treatment, people dealing with critical infrastructure — relieving some folks from the need to file the form. But for those who do, then what?

Well, in Maine this is at least part of the answer:

“Lodging establishments or rental managers are required, at the time of reservation or prior to the guests stay, to inform visitors of Maine’s requirements for quarantine or testing and to provide the Certificate of Compliance in advance”

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“There must be printed copies for guests to fill out upon arrival, if they haven’t provided one in advance.” And the hotel or camp ground is required to hold on to that form for at least 30 days.

In short, Maine has made its entire lodging industry primary enforcers of its policy. And why would hotel managers want to risk turning away business? Well, as the Keep Maine Healthy website says in its pitch to those lodging managers, “Surveys show that visitors want to visit destinations they view as COVID-safe.” That means more tourist business in the long run.

And in Massachusetts?

“As with all COVID-19 measures, a combination of personal responsibility and enforcement at the local and state level is necessary,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. “The Administration will augment the order if public health and travel data warrants it.”

Lodging operators here are expected to inform guests of their obligations when they make a reservation or at check-in but that’s pretty much it. That puts the burden on local boards of health, which already have their hands full in high-volume tourist destinations like Cape Cod and the Islands.


The good news for Massachusetts is that most of its summer tourists this year will be coming from that relative “safe” zone that includes most of New England and stretches to New York and New Jersey.

But New York City this week also issued some get-tough travel restrictions for those visiting from higher risk states.

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About 20 percent of all new coronavirus cases in the city originate with out-of-state travelers, according to Dr. Ted Long, head of New York City’s Test & Trace Corps.

There, travelers will be required to fill out travel forms when purchasing a plane or train ticket or booking a hotel. Long said the test-and-trace team will “follow up” on quarantining visitors, even making sure they have food and medicines. The city has also promised “random checkpoints” at key entry points.

Okay, so maybe we don’t need to be New York City. But is it too much to ask to have travel restrictions that are more than a vague hope that people will “do the right thing” — because, well, the governor asked them to?


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.