A year into the coronavirus pandemic, more Mainers are still staying at home compared to last year, when they drove up residential energy use, two recent studies found.
There are early indications at Maine’s hotels and inns that pent up demand is causing people to start traveling again, but many are doing so cautiously. Maine accommodations saw a bump up in reservations after Gov. Janet Mills relaxed travel restrictions recently for those visiting the state in advance of this year’s tourism season.
Still, the increase in travel will take time. In January, Maine had a 12.3 percent increase in the number of people staying at home to 341,105 compared to last January, according to a study released last Thursday by QuoteWizard, a LendingTree company. The study examined data from the U.S. Department of Transportation on trips by distance.
That’s a smaller increase than most other states. Vermont was the next closest New England state at 14.4 percent, but the other New England states all had more than 23 percent of their residents staying at home. California led the list nationally with close to 80 percent staying at home, while Mississippi had the fewest at 4.5 percent.
The study found a direct connection between each state’s stay-at-home rate and its number of COVID-19 cases per capita. Maine has had one of the lowest infection rates in the nation.
But there have been some variations over the year, with more people staying at home last April than any other month. That was the first full month after the first round of pandemic restrictions were put in place in March. But the study also found a big rebound in May and June, when restrictions eased. After that cases increased again and stay-at-home numbers stayed about the same for the rest of 2020.
“We see this big increase in travel right after the first round of stay-at-home orders,” Nick VinZant, research analyst at QuoteWizard said of the numbers in May and June. “Travel then goes back up, but then we pass 50,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day and 3 million overall and I think that had a very sobering effect on people.”
The decrease in activities during the pandemic also led to a 4 percent decline in total energy consumption in Maine last year compared to 2019, with decreases in use by industrial and commercial buildings offsetting an increase in use by residences. The decrease is the same amount that occurred nationally, according to a study released Wednesday by CommercialCafe using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration comparing energy use in 2020 versus 2019.
Maine’s energy use went down 8 percent in commercial buildings and 10 percent in industrial ones last year, as compared to 2019, which is close to the record low at the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Overall, 22 states saw double-digit drops in industrial energy consumption, Sabau said.
With workers and students at home during the pandemic, however, energy use nationwide by households increased to a 10-year record high from last April through September, study author Diana Sabau said.
“States adopted different approaches to deal with the pandemic and manage the cooling economy, including ordering curfews, issuing stay-at-home orders or banning public events and gatherings,” Sabau said. “Those measures ultimately contributed to significant fluctuation in power consumption.”
Maine’s governor issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect last April and that was relaxed somewhat in May as the governor put the state’s economy on a gradual reopening rollout and a 9 p.m. curfew for certain businesses starting last November and running through January 2021.