N.H. won’t necessarily re-open restaurants by Easter, Sununu says

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces a series of emergency orders on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Concord, N.H., in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The orders create immediate access to unemployment benefits for residents unable to work or facing reduced hours due to the new coronavirus pandemic. He also took steps to protect people from being evicted or having utilities shut off in the next few weeks. (AP photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

Monitor staff
Published: 3/24/2020 4:51:42 PM

President Donald Trump has urged a quick reopening of restaurants and businesses in America, pushing the country to return to normal by Easter.

But when it comes to reversing New Hampshire’s own shutdowns, Gov. Chris Sununu is urging caution.

Speaking to reporters eight days after barring food businesses from in-house dining in the face of the coronavirus, Sununu said Tuesday that the state is not going to reverse course on a whim.

“I think I speak for every governor across the country when I say of course you want the economy to come back as fast as possible...” he said.

But, he added: “What we are not going to do is overly accelerate or loosen regulations just for the sake of the economy at the risk of public health.”

Trump has expressed increasing anxiety over the direction of the American economy in recent days, large portions of which have shut down due to the spread of the respiratory virus and a climbing national death toll.

On Tuesday, the president said he wanted the country “opened and just raring to go by Easter,” pointing to skyrocketing unemployment rates and sinking revenues nationwide.

But epidemiologists and health experts have urged restraint, arguing that the virus can only be vanquished through sustained social distancing and that the business closures, while painful, are saving lives.

In New Hampshire, Sununu, a Republican, has not taken some of the steps his neighbors have when it comes to closing businesses. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills of Maine both ordered closures of “non-essential businesses” by executive order, something Sununu says is unnecessary because most Granite businesses are doing it voluntarily.

But on March 16, Sununu did join a majority of U.S. states in ordering that restaurants and food outlets close their doors to dining room patrons, requiring them to transition to take out, deliver and drive-thru services only.

Those orders have brought about mass layoffs in the service industry, but health experts have called them necessary to cut off contamination hubs and convince citizens to stay home.

On Tuesday, Sununu said the state’s highest priority is to build up its capacity to handle an expected surge in COVID-19 cases in the next few weeks.

“We’re going to do it in a way that public health is preeminent,” he said. “So whatever messages (are) coming out of Washington, we’re going to take care of New Hampshire first.”

But he acknowledged that the toll the emergency orders will take on state finances is likely to be high.

New Hampshire was already facing slight downturns in expected business tax revenue before the outbreak of the coronavirus. But with major sectors of the state now shuttered, those contributions are likely to nosedive, Sununu said.

“Look, the short and long term forecast in terms of state revenues is not good,” the governor said. “There’s just no getting around that. I don’t mean to be overly dire about it, but that shouldn’t be a secret to anybody. Revenues are going to be drastically impacted at the state level.”

He said that the state would find ways to keep vital services open and would continue to lobby Congress to appropriate aid to the states, particularly a $2 trillion stimulus package currently being hammered out in the U.S. House.

On Tuesday, Sununu signed on with 20 Republican governors urging federal lawmakers to approve block grant funds to states – money that governors could use unconditionally to continue fighting the virus.

Volunteers wanted

Sununu also announced Tuesday that the state is opening a new web portal to attract and organize volunteers interested in helping out through the crisis.

NHResponds.org is now a live website to allow medical and non-medical volunteers to register, list their skills, and find opportunities to help, Sununu announced Tuesday.

The website will accompany a public campaign to boost participation in emergency services, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced Tuesday.

“For COVID-19, it’s a challenge that is unprecedented in our state history and requires an unprecedented response,” Shibinette said. “We need more volunteers to step up and help mitigate this pandemic.”

“This is an all hands on deck moment for our state,” she said.

Keep it fewer than your fingers

On Tuesday, Sununu officially prohibited all non-essential gatherings of 10 people or more. The prohibition covers all group meetings for social, spiritual and recreational activities, including but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.

However, it does not apply to state government, the day-to-day operations of for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, or gatherings for urgent medical purposes such as blood drives or meetings of medical personnel to discuss efforts to com hat the COVD-19 pandemic.

Workout online

A growing number of gyms and fitness clubs in Concord have switched to online classes, including 43 Degrees North Athletic Club, which announced Tuesday it was closing down temporarily due to the coronavirus. The club has shifted to online classes which include Live Facebook videos, prerecorded workouts and interactive videos.

In addition, the club will also be launching Free Fitness Fridays when all online classes are free. Those classes will be featured on the 43 Degrees North Athletic Club’s main Facebook page.

“Our mission extends far beyond our brick and mortar and we are focused now more than ever in keeping our community strong,” said Crystal Reynolds, owner of 43° North.
As we go through these challenging times, together, we will continue to explore meaningful ways to inspire and motivate our members every day.”

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