ELLSWORTH — I’m coming back to Maine after wintering in Arizona. Can I go grocery shopping and get gas while observing my 14-day quarantine?
The answer, at least legally, appears to be yes, said District Attorney Matt Foster in an email this week.
“It looks pretty clear to me,” said Foster, citing Executive Order 34FY 19/20, issued by Governor Janet Mills on April 3.
The order directs travelers entering Maine (whether residents or visitors) to “immediately self-quarantine for 14 days or for the balance of 14 days dating from the day of arrival, except when engaging in essential services as defined in Executive Order 19FY 19/20.”
“The definition of ‘essential services’ in 19 FY 19/20 includes grocery stores, among many other things,” Foster wrote. “So in my opinion, in reading Executive Order 34 FY 19/20, a person who is subject to a 14-day self-quarantine is permitted to leave the location of their self-quarantine to engage in shopping or any other activity that is defined as an ‘essential service.’”
Executive Order 19FY, which lays out which businesses are considered essential, also refers back to a federal document with a more comprehensive list, although that document notes that it is “advisory” only and not a directive. The federal document includes fields ranging from car mechanics and grocery store clerks to health-care workers and those who manufacture glass.
In introducing the plan to reopen certain businesses, the first stage of which began last Friday, state officials have started to move away from the essential/nonessential designation, instead focusing on a four-stage, months-long timeline allowing businesses that can safely operate to do so, with certain precautions in place. Mills has said that officials may impose new restrictions if cases spike at any point.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clarified during a briefing on Friday, May 1, that the state’s “expectation” is that travelers entering Maine observe the 14-day quarantine.
“Our expectation and our anticipation is that any individual coming to Maine from another state arrive and be in a position to fully quarantine for 14 days,” said Shah. “This means bringing with them all the provisions that they would need for that 14-day period. That’s our expectation and we hope it’s one that is abided.”
Local law enforcement agencies say they plan on taking an educational approach in enforcing the quarantine, in accordance with guidance they’re receiving from state officials. Issuing fines and charging someone with violating the order would have to be done in consultation with the District Attorney’s Office, said Bar Harbor Police Chief Jim Willis.
“It’s really their decision,” said Willis. “We would have to coordinate with our DA [district attorney] to get a charge against someone. It’s the way the system works, it’s like every other crime.”
The department plans on taking a “community policing” approach, said Willis, with education and voluntary compliance at the forefront, following advice from the state. “That’s the guidance most of us are getting.”
Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier has also said his officers plan on taking a largely educational role in enforcing the emergency orders. He told city councilors last month that the department didn’t intend to implement more stringent measures such as setting up roadblocks.
District Attorney Foster, who would be tasked with deciding whether to charge a traveler or resident with violating the 14-day quarantine, said he recognized that allowing those under quarantine to engage in essential services “kind of defeats the whole purpose of the 14-day self-quarantine.” But, he noted in an email, “that is how it is written.”