There is a sense in Maine these days the state is under siege from people trying to escape viral hot spots by racing north to the seemingly pristine environs of the Pine Tree State.

Mainers are worried outsiders will flock to the Pine Tree State to escape COVID-19. So far, there is not a lot of evidence that is happening.

More than 22,000 people have signed an online petition calling on them to stay away until at least May — with many of the signers griping that city folks from Boston and New York are bringing COVID-19 with them in their quest to find safety.

In a bid to keep them away, Bar Harbor and Portland this week banned most short-term rentals through April.

It Is not clear, though, how serious the problem is. Firm data is impossible to come by.

But there is one place through which most visitors to the state pass that provides at least a better guess about what is happening on the ground: The toll booths in York.

Peter Mills, who heads the Maine Turnpike Authority, said Tuesday there seems to be “a lot of Massachusetts traffic.”


This ad appeared in an online classified site in Boston touting a virus-free stay in Maine with “Coronoa Special Rates.”

“We are probably being moderately invaded by Massachusetts,” he said, but not much by New Yorkers, after a brief uptick in their presence a couple of weeks ago.

With schools closed and COVID-19 spreading, a number of people said it makes sense some families would simply pack up and head to second homes, where they normally spend summers.

Aside from some extra Bay Staters, there is not much evidence tourists are flocking to Maine in some kind of rush to get away from places that seem more risky.

Kelly O’Neil, owner of Rangeley Vacation Rentals, said she has not “had any calls at all” in recent weeks from people looking for a place.

It is so slow, in fact, that she has shut down for the time being.

O’Neil said she has not seen signs that people from harder-hit areas are looking for refuge in Maine.


On the contrary, she said she has had many cancellations for late March and April bookings because they did not want to come to rural Maine during the pandemic.

She said there are probably a few people with summer homes in the area who have returned early, but it is not anything significant.

O’Neil said she suspects people see out-of-state license plates and just assume they are folks escaping to Maine. Many of them actually live in Maine, she said, but have not yet gotten state plates.

Matthew Hochman, vice chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said Tuesday he tried to get a sense of the issue while walking his dog nine days ago near Sand Beach at Acadia National Park.

Acadia National Park

At the time, he said, he counted about 250 cars there. Twenty-eight of them had out-of-state license plates, he said, although he figures some of them actually live in Maine and just had not gotten around to getting new ones.

Two days ago, he went back — after the park had closed — and found 41 cars there. About a quarter of them had license plates from other states or decals from southern Maine dealerships, he said, which might mean that they were not being driven by locals.


Dave Huard, owner of Connecting Rentals of Bethel, said he had not seen a surge in the number of people coming to Maine.

There are only a few looking to extend winter leases into May, he said, and perhaps a handful of summer people who are coming early because their children are out of school.

“I don’t really see a huge influx of people looking to get to our area,” Huard said. “Nobody’s booking right now.”

Huard said the Sunday River region is typically quiet this time of year and, with the early closure of the ski resort, even more so now.

Still, he said, there are some renters coming and going.

Barbara Clark, owner of Belgrade Vacation Rentals, said she has had one call from anybody.


The person was looking to rent something for the whole summer, Clark said, but it was not clear it had anything to do with the pandemic.

Otherwise, she said, she is booked up as usual for the summer.

One woman called to cancel a late-August booking, Clark said, worried some guests who needed to fly in might have trouble. She got her money back.

Clark, who is hanging out in the Florida sunshine with her family for the season, said she has noticed from Facebook posts that a few summer people have come early in the Belgrade Lakes area, but it does not appear to be any sort of rush.

Clark said she hopes things will be back to normal by July and August, her busy times.

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