Those looking to vacation across New England this summer face a patchwork of travel restrictions and quarantine policies, even as the COVID-19 pandemic slows in the Northeast.
You can vacation in Vermont's Green Mountains without a quarantine and COVID-19 test if you live in Windham County, Connecticut -- but not if you live in Tolland County, Connecticut.
Staying at a New Hampshire hotel requires signing a document that you have completed a two-week quarantine period, though no compliance forms are needed at hotels in Massachusetts.
You can head east to Rhode Island to visit the shoreline without quarantining, but if you drive north to the Maine coast, you will need to demonstrate that you have quarantined or received a negative COVID-19 result.
Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said that the variance in state restrictions is largely a result of the federal government's lack of broad regulations during the pandemic.
"Every state is very well-equipped to make policy for itself -- and we've seen that throughout the pandemic -- but how those policies interface and play or don't play with each other on a regional or national level is really much more a role for the federal government," Pieciak said.
During the pandemic, that decision-making has largely fallen to state governors, resulting in a medley of restrictions even between neighboring New England states.
In Connecticut, surging COVID-19 cases in the South and West led to new guidelines last week requiring travelers from "hot spot" states such as Florida and Texas to self-quarantine upon arrival or provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.
The restrictions apply to travelers from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or higher than a 10% test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. As of June 26, the list of states included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
Still, travel to Connecticut remains unrestricted from other New England states or areas in the tristate region. But it's not always a reciprocal relationship.
The irregular nature of New England restrictions has prompted ire among some Maine business owners frustrated by their state's strict measures while nearby states such as Massachusetts permit out-of-state travel more freely. Maine began allowing lodging establishments to serve out-of-state visitors June 26 and requires nearly all travelers to either quarantine for 14 days or furnish proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Residents of New Hampshire and Vermont are allowed to visit or stay in Maine without those restrictions, the state government determined, since the population-adjusted prevalence of cases in those states is similar to that of Maine.
All other out-of-state travelers to Maine must show a certificate of compliance at all lodgings, campgrounds, seasonal rentals, overnight camps and commercial lodgings, including Airbnb rentals. The form requires the signee to attest to either receiving a negative COVID-19 test from a sample taken no later than 72 hours prior to arrival in Maine or quarantining for 14 days upon arrival to the state or for the duration of their stay. Testing is not required for children 18 years or younger, traveling with adults.
Vermont has instituted one of the most specific COVID-19 visitation policies, breaking down quarantine restriction not just by state, but by county. The policy was an attempt to restart the state's tourism economy while maintaining Vermont's very low COVID-19 caseload.
In Vermont, only residents from counties in New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, in addition to Washington, D.C., that have fewer than 400 active COVID-19 cases per million people can stay in the state without a quarantine period or COVID-19 test.
A color-coded map on the Vermont state website that is updated each Friday -- at https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/restart/cross-state-travel -- shows which counties are in the "green" (fewer than 400 COVID-19 cases per million), which are in the "yellow" (400-799 cases per million), and which are in the "red" (800 or more cases per million). That means that visitors from Connecticut's Windham, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven and Fairfield counties must quarantine and get tested, while those from Litchfield, Tolland and New London counties need not.
The state is largely relying on the "honor system" to enforce the regulations, Pieciak said, though the lodging industry is required to obtain certificates of compliance from visitors proving that they have met the quarantine requirement if necessary.
The Vermont government asks visitors from "yellow" or "red" counties to quarantine for seven days at home and obtain a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for seven days in Vermont upon arrival and then get tested. Residents of all other states must also quarantine and obtain a test if visiting Vermont. In Vermont, COVID-19 tests are free and available at pop-up sites and urgent care clinics throughout the state.
"When we first set out to do the travel policy, we realized we really couldn't do it on a state-by-state approach, because every state has a challenging area, whether it's New York City, whether it's Fairfield County, whether it's Suffolk County in Massachusetts," said financial regulation department commissioner Pieciak.
Vermont decided to take a "granular, county-by-county approach" in order to bring tourism back -- but not from out-of-state areas with high caseloads.
"As we tried to slowly reopen our leisure travel industry and balance the need of protecting Vermonters and the health of the state with the economic need of getting tourism industry to be able to survive, and people wanting to visit Vermont, we found this targeted approach to be with one that was able to balance those two factors the best," Pieciak said.
Elsewhere in New England, quarantine restrictions for visitors are less severe -- or nonexistent.
Visitors to New Hampshire are asked to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to arriving in the state. Out-of-state travelers staying overnight at lodging properties (hotels, motels, B&Bs, cabins, cottages, condos, and short-term rentals) are required to provide documentation attesting to the two-week quarantine. The state government adds that the quarantine period includes leaving your home for essential items and wearing a cloth face covering if not able to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing.
New Hampshire campgrounds are open to out-of-state visitors who have completed the 14-day quarantine period.
In Massachusetts, all travelers are advised to self-quarantine for 14 days and asked not to travel to the state if displaying symptoms. But visitors aren't required to provide a compliance form.
Rhode Island currently requires two-week self-quarantines for any international travelers or those arriving for a non-work-related purposed from a town, city, county or state with a stay-at-home restriction, shelter-in-place restriction, or COVID-19 outbreak.
The Rhode Island state police are also no longer stopping out-of-state drivers for contact tracing purposes, as the department did earlier in the pandemic, according to Gov. Gina M. Raimondo's deputy communications director Audrey Lucas.