Sununu holding off on restoring COVID restrictions as cases rise

  • A closed sign hangs in the window of a shop in Portsmouth, N.H., due to caronavirus Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Most of the restaurant and retail businesses in the city have closed, with some offering takeout or pick-up orders, due to the virus outbreak. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • A closed sign hangs in the window of a shop in Portsmouth, N.H., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Most of the restaurant and retail businesses in the city have closed, with some offering takeout or pick-up orders, due to the virus outbreak. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 11/16/2020 3:57:50 PM

As COVID-19 cases surge to new records in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu is standing by one clear position: No new state-ordered lockdowns.

At a press conference last week, Sununu stressed that the state did not need to return to the stay-at-home order issued in late March, when restaurants and stores were shut to in-person traffic and only “essential” businesses were allowed to continue operating.

“We’re not looking at additional aggressive restrictions right now,” Sununu said, citing “the negative impacts of that kind of lockdown.”

Cases have been surging in recent weeks. On Sunday, state officials reported 361 new positive COVID-19 test results, just below a record set on Saturday: 384 cases.

Hospitalization levels and deaths are also rising, with 68 in the hospital Sunday and one death associated with long-term care facilities.

But for Sununu, the current situation is much different from the one that prompted the first lockdown, “which we absolutely had to do in the spring.”

“It was the right thing to do because we didn’t have testing and contact tracing and all these other things and everything was just so different back then,” he said Thursday.

Now, though, the governor continued: “It’s just truly different.” To start, there is no federal assistance to help businesses weather the crisis of a mandatory shutdown or enhanced unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, he noted.

And the governor said he was focused on the side effects seen the last time around – “the mental health issues, the isolation, the shutdown of schools, the issues around abuse of kids, the issues around substance misuse and abuse.”

Still, the position makes New Hampshire a geographic outlier. Governors in surrounding New England states have begun to tighten regulations amid a national “third wave” of the coronavirus.

On Friday, Vermont’s Gov. Phil Scott banned indoor and outdoor “multi-household gatherings,” announced the mandated closure of bars and clubs, and directed restaurants to shut off in-person dining after 10 p.m., citing a rise in cases. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont banned private indoor and outdoor events with 10 people or more and recommended a statewide curfew.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker imposed a limit of 10 people for indoor gatherings and 25 for outdoor gatherings, and added a $500 fine for violators. The state also imposed a mask requirement for everyone out in public who is over 5 years old.

Maine’s Gov. Janet Mills, meanwhile, has limited indoor gatherings to 50 or more, maintained its mask requirement, and postponed the re-opening of bars to inside service.

But despite rising case numbers, Sununu has resisted following suit on lockdown measures, arguing that other metrics like hospitalizations and the state’s mortality rate have not matched the levels seen in March that prompted that lockdown. And he has said that enhanced testing and contact tracing now meant that New Hampshire was in a better spot to tackle the virus without those measures compared to back in the spring.

Yet the governor’s projections for this latest surge have been anything but reserved.

“We have 350 cases today,” he said Thursday. “If you ask me where we’re going to be in two weeks, I think we’re over 1,000.”

Sununu stressed adherence to the state’s mask-wearing guidance, and warned about the risks of in-person family gatherings for driving the spread. State contact tracers have found that the most significant sources of spread recently have been private events with family and friends.

When it comes to forcefully shuttering businesses and restaurants, or limiting them to curbside pickup, Sununu said the economic impacts would be graver now than back in spring, when many had reserves of cash.

“All those issues (are) getting drastically exacerbated” if shutdowns return,” Sununu said. “. . . Unless Congress decides something different and there’s no sign of that right now.”

For now, Sununu said that until hospitals begin to show signs of strain or overcapacity, the rising case numbers are not on their own a reason to add restrictions. And he urged residents to put faith in the guidance documents that businesses have been asked to follow since the state began reopening them this summer.

“A big part of our response is how it overloads the healthcare system, so we go back to the importance of hospitalizations,” Sununu said.

If further restrictions are considered, they’ll likely be implemented geographically, with areas of the state closest to Massachusetts the first to be affected, Sununu said. But he said there was no one data trigger that might drive that decision.

“There’s not a single number – there’s not a single data point or variable,” he said. “It’s all these moving pieces that we’ve been discussing.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2020 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy