Baker Tightens Travel Restrictions; Local Businesses Expect Little Impact

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19

Many, but certainly not all, visitors to Harwich Port were wearing masks last week. The town's health board last week voted to mandate face coverings in the village. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

 

On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new travel order that requires travelers coming to Massachusetts from most U.S. states to quarantine for 14 days or face fines of up to $500 per day. But with most of this season’s summer visitors to the Lower Cape coming from elsewhere in the state, the economic impact of the new order is expected to be minor.

With limited exceptions, the order targets travelers coming from anyplace outside lower-risk states (currently New England states, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii), requiring them to self-isolate upon arriving in Massachusetts for two weeks or until they are cleared by a COVID-19 test.

“This rule will apply equally to Massachusetts residents returning home from out-of-state travel,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. Travelers subject to the rule are required to complete and submit a form available at www.Mass.gov/MassTraveler, and to certify that they are symptom-free and will follow social distancing and face mask rules.

“All such travelers have a responsibility to help the Commonwealth keep transmission levels as low as possible,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said. Those who fill out the form will be contacted by public health officials who will verify that they are following the rules. The order carries fines of up to $500 a day for violators, but relies on travelers to voluntarily report.

“The honor system in Massachusetts has worked pretty well,” Baker said. “We’re not going to be stopping cars. But we’re going to be expecting people to comply.”

The travel order is similar to an advisory that had been in place previously. Any violations should be reported to local boards of health. “But the goal here is to rely on what we’ve relied on since the beginning, which is people generally follow the rules,” the governor said.

Under the order, guests at hotels, inns and other lodging establishments must be informed of the quarantine order when they book their rooms, and again when they check in. But according to local chambers of commerce, most visitors to the Lower Cape this summer are coming from elsewhere in Massachusetts, and are thus not subject to the rule.

The Orleans Waterfront Inn, which closed its restaurant for the season and is only renting some of its 11 rooms, has hosted visitors from low-risk states, owner Ed Maas said.

“I got a call from a woman in her 80s who was going to get on a plane in Florida, fly up here to Cape Cod, and wanted to stay at the inn,” he said. “I declined the reservation. I advised her that the safest thing is for her to stay close to home.”

The greater impact to his business is the loss of the 319-seat restaurant, which Maas voluntarily opted not to open this year. A former hospital administrator, he said he and his family decided that there was no way to open the restaurant safely. “I prayed every day that my decision was wrong,” he said. While his business was able to forgo the revenue this year, “there are a number in the hospitality industry that did not have that luxury,” he said.

Maas praised Gov. Baker and the Orleans Health Department for the way they’ve managed the crisis, and for providing support to businesses like his.

Statewide, the positive test rates for COVID-19 have crept up slightly from 1.7 percent to 2 percent. Though the number is far lower than the 10 percent the state reported back in May, the recent increase is linked to small clusters including the recent one in Chatham (see related story, Page 1), Baker said. “We can also assume that there’s simply a lot more mobility out there,” in part because of the warm weather, the governor said.

From his vantage point on Town Cove, Maas said he’s been troubled to see large gatherings of young people who were not wearing masks, often traveling to the outer beach.

Barnstable County officials were reportedly working on new ways to better communicate COVID-19 safety messages to younger audiences, possibly using social media, but it appears that effort has not yet begun. Baker said that while young people have been connected to the Chatham cluster, and while they make up a greater percentage of positive test cases, there’s no evidence that people in that age group are driving the local increase in cases.

“A lot of what’s driving the increase in cases out of the South was just an astonishing run-up in test rates for the under-30 crowd,” Baker said. “We do not have that.” Instead, all three age categories – under 30, 30 to 60 and over 60 – are reducing their numbers, but the older age groups are reducing numbers more quickly, he said. When it comes to wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and staying at home when sick, “our young people, for the most part, appear to be doing all the same things that the 30-to-60 and the over-60 folks are doing,” Baker said.