Volinsky says state needs to define essential services

  • Andru Volinsky

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 3/26/2020 8:26:08 AM

With a growing number of states instituting various levels of shelter in place, New Hampshire has not yet released a list of what would constitute essential services that would remain open and operational in such a scenario.

“At this time, the state has not called a shelter-in-place, but continues to evaluate all options,” read an unsigned statement from the COVID-19 Joint Information Center, which is run through the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management department. “The state is taking a proactive approach to keeping people safe by mandating carryout and takeout at restaurants only, and transitioning public schools statewide to remote learning.”

Andru Volinsky, Democratic District 2 representative of New Hampshire’s five-member Executive Council, said he believed it was a mistake not to issue such an order and define those essential services immediately.

“As of this morning, the issue came up a couple of times, the Governor [Republican Chris Sununu] is not willing to discuss what should and should not be an essential service,” Volinsky said Wednesday of a meeting between the governor and the Executive Council. “He just kept saying we’re doing all we can do through voluntary action.”

A spokesman for Sununu did not immediately return requests for comment.

Sununu declared a state of emergency in New Hampshire on March 13, and could declare a shelter in place order by state law. Volinsky said he should make such a declaration after consultation with the Executive Council.

The Joint Information Center statement noted that few states have declared shelter in place orders, and all have higher population densities than New Hampshire does. It also added that none of the shelter-in-place declarations by any state up to this point have mandated residents actually stay home.

“Testing capacity will be tripled in the coming days, which will help state officials identify and mitigate the spread of COVID19,” the statement read.

Volinsky said the state could use the guidelines already set by several states that have declared stay-at-home orders, including Ohio and Massachusetts.

“The Ohio shelter-in-place order included a section that defined the term essential services, and it had kinds of things you would expect — gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies — things of that nature,” Volinsky said. “It did not include restaurants and liquor stores and barber shops and beauty parlors and those kinds of places.”

A list of businesses neighboring Massachusetts has deemed “essential” can be found at mass.gov.

Volinsky believes the state should have a shelter-in-place order that closes down non-essential businesses, limits public transportation to service to and from essential services, shuts down state liquor stores and sends non essential state employees home with pay and benefits.

“I have spoken broadly to a number of business people who have expressed the position that a distinct shut down of a shorter duration is better than limping through a longer period of time at a highly reduced level of operation,” he said.

Wednesday morning, the state’s Health and Human Services department told the Executive Council the state could expect a spike in positive test results due to there being more test kits available, according to Volinsky.

As of Thursday morning, state officials reported 137 cases in New Hampshire, including 56 in Rockingham County. There are five confirmed cases in Merrimack County. There are 712 tests still pending.

“The low number of cases is a product of our inability to test and is not a fair representation of the level of infection,” Volinsky said.

For Volinsky instituting such an order involves striking a balance between avoiding unnecessary fear among residents and aggressively confronting the realities of the pandemic.

“I am hopeful that he may see reason and change his mind,” Volinsky said of Sununu.

These stories are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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