Quarantine order threatens outsiders with fines

A traveler wearing a protective mask, due to the coronavirus outbreak, walks through the nearly empty JetBlue terminal at Logan Airport in Boston in May. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Almost all travelers entering Massachusetts, including permanent residents returning home and incoming college students, must comply with new mandatory quarantine or testing requirements starting next week or face fines of up to $500 per day.

Under Gov. Charlie Baker's new executive order effective Aug. 1, those arriving in Massachusetts will need to fill out a form summarizing their travel, then either self-isolate for 14 days or provide negative COVID-19 test results that are at most 72 hours old.

The new travel restrictions Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled Friday escalate his administration's response, replacing a months-old advisory for travelers to quarantine with a mandatory policy — which he once described as impossible — that carries concrete penalties.

Local public health agencies will have the power to issue penalties of up to $500 per day, and anyone who is concerned about a potential violation can notify authorities.

However, Baker told reporters that the new restrictions will largely play out on an "honor system." If public officials and the lodging industry clearly communicate the policy, he said, the "vast majority of people will play by the rules."

"The honor system in Massachusetts has worked pretty well," Baker said, later adding, "We're not going to be stopping cars, but we're going to expect people to comply."

Travel from states considered low-risk — defined as having a daily case rate of less than six people per 100,000 and a positive test rate below 5%, each on a rolling seven-day average — will be exempt from the quarantine or test policies.

As of Friday, eight states are on that list: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii. Officials said it will be updated regularly.

Most other trips will be subject to the new rules, regardless of whether the individual or group is visiting Massachusetts or returning to the Bay State following travel elsewhere. Those passing through Massachusetts will not need to quarantine, nor will commuters heading to work or school, patients traveling for medical treatment, and workers on "critical infrastructure services."

Anyone entering the state will need to complete an online Massachusetts Travel Form, signed under penalties of law, providing contact information, travel details, intention to abide by social distancing and mask-use requirements, and whether they plan to quarantine or have instead tested negative for the highly infectious virus.

Like many other states in the Northeast, Massachusetts has made considerable progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19 after hitting a peak earlier in the spring. The positive test rate has hovered below 2% for several weeks, and the number of patients hospitalized has dropped more than 85% from mid-April.

Baker said the decision to impose new restrictions was driven by three factors: a significant increase in travel and public activity, surging infection numbers in other states, and the impending arrival — albeit in smaller numbers than usual — of college students ready for the fall semester, some of whom will come from hotspot locations.

"There are many parts of the United States that have seen a very significant increase in both their positive test rates and their positive test rates per capita over the course of the past 30 to 60 days, which has really changed the game, in many respects, with the way we think about the relative risk associated with out-of-state travel into Massachusetts," Baker said.





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