Massachusetts residents planning to visit family in New Hampshire and Maine this Thanksgiving will be required to quarantine for two weeks or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon their return, according to the latest change of the state’s out-of-state travel rules — and the same goes for visitors from two those states coming here for the holiday.
As local officials urge residents against traveling at all for Thanksgiving amid the surge in coronavirus cases this fall, a spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 Command Center told Boston.com that Massachusetts will remove New Hampshire and Maine from its list of lower-risk states effective Saturday, joining 46 others that are subject from to its travel order.
That means individuals visiting or returning from those states are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within the prior 72 hours upon arriving in Massachusetts. Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.
Vermont and Hawaii will be the only states considered lower risk and exempt from the travel rules. The Department of Public Health announced the change later Friday afternoon.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders had hinted Wednesday that officials expected to remove two additional neighboring states from lower-risk list this week. For two straight weeks, New Hampshire and Maine had averaged above 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, which was one of the thresholds that states needed to stay under to be considered lower risk.
According the COVID-19 data tracking website used for the travel order, New Hampshire and Maine were respectively averaging 27 and 14 new cases per 100,000 residents on Friday. Vermont has also averaged above 10 new cases per 100,000 residents this week — but did not last week (states must exceed the threshold for two straight weeks to be removed from the lower-risk list).
Massachusetts was averaging nearly 38 cases per 100,000 residents as of Friday.
Despite recently loosening the criteria to be exempt from travel order, the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases this fall has resulted in DPH officials removing a half dozen other formerly lower-risk states from the exempt list over the past month, including bordering states such as New York and Connecticut. (Rhode Island has been subject to the travel order since August.)
There are some exceptions for cross-border travel, such as for commuting to work or to seek medical treatment.
The state also exempts certain short, same-day trips across the border and back that are designated as “critical life activities,” such as grocery shopping, visits to pharmacies, attending appointments with licensed health care providers, visiting someone receiving treatment in hospitals or residing in congregate care settings, attending religious or memorial services, or attending to the care needs of family members.
However, a Thanksgiving dinner does not qualify for one of those exceptions. During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker said he was “concerned” that the reports of long lines at local COVID-19 testing sites suggest many residents are ignoring the administration’s guidance and planning to travel, in state or out of state, for multi-household Thanksgiving gatherings.
“If we treat this year just like we treat every other Thanksgiving, it’s quite likely that it will trigger a significant spread,” Baker said.