By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – It was all about bringing back baseball, health clubs, and family attractions for the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force during its remote phone-in meeting Tuesday.
And there was some news that a guidance document is near for consideration of reopening dentist offices to perform elective procedures.
The 19-member group is charged with giving Gov. Chris Sununu guidance for reopening various aspects of the state’s life and economy while protecting it from the spread of COVID-19.
The task force hears daily from various industry representatives and then after meeting in subcommittee, votes and provides guidance documents that are then considered by the state’s health officials. Health officials then modify or concurs with the task force and provide those recommendations to the governor who then makes his own call.
Last week, Sununu agreed to flex open certain aspects of the economy in the first phase of reopening which he called “Stay at Home 2.0.” They include opening campgrounds to New Hampshire residents and members and some elective hospital procedures and soon opening golf courses to New Hampshire people and members, hair salons and outdoor seating at restaurants, all with strict guidelines.
The plan was developed based on guidance from the industry to the task force that was then reviewed and recommended by state health officials, Sununu said.
The emphasis, Sununu said, is that health is of utmost concern. But it did not follow all the task force recommendations.
The task force heard from Mike Benton, president and chief executive officer of GENAVIX Corp., which owns several health clubs in Southern New Hampshire. Gyms could not bill since March for monthly memberships and for Benton that is about 65 percent of a gym’s revenue.
On behalf of the industry, Benton asked for health clubs and gyms to be open by May 18 with 50 percent occupancy allowed and at least eight-foot distance between machines in a cardio room. No new memberships will be taken. Saunas and steams will be closed. Racquetball and squash courts would be kept closed, he recommended.
“We recognize we will have to change,” Benton said. “We are seeing it done successfully” in other parts of the country where they did not shut down.
Gold’s Gym International filed for Chapter 11 this week, he said, and the industry has not been able to access federal funds for relief.
Benton said there is controlled access which can be managed by appointments to allow for occupancy of 50 percent or less. The members can be tracked if there is an illness. The buildings and equipment and staff provide the public methods to stay healthy and contribute to community health.
Added cleaning and sanitization requirements would be in the guidance.
Some gyms may not be able to or do not want to reopen, Benton said, but the majority of the health club operators he has spoken with believe they can meet guidelines he provided.https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/71814319-9c35-4e39-8df0-4dbd05bc4e0d/Health-Clubs-and-Gym-Reopen-Proposal.pdf
Charyl Reardon, president of White Mountain Attractions, said opening some of the attractions could relieve some of the pressure on places like Franconia Notch State Park which is currently under stress. Unlike concert halls, these outdoor facilities can be tailored to distancing with markings on the ground to keep people six feet apart, she said.
The attractions like Lost River Gorge, those with canoes and kayaks, mini-golf courses and gondola rides, should be allowed to reopen on the first phase because they are largely outdoors and dispersed, Reardon said.
The first phase would limit groups to no more than six and for New Hampshire residents only, she said. Canobie Lake Park, Storyland, cruises and trains would be in a second phase, she suggested.
The use of masks and face-coverings would be for staff and encouraged for guests and additional handwashing and sanitizing would be offered at the end of each ride. She said she would forward a proposed document in writing to the committee.
American Legion Baseball
Rick Harvey, chair of the Department of American Legion Baseball, gave a presentation on how youth baseball could operate this summer with COVID-19 and where the problems would lie. The American Legion offers baseball for 13-19 year olds across the state. There are 32 teams.
“The kids are dying to play,” he said. But there are a number of considerations.
He offered the following suggested guidance to open baseball https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/dd021108-108e-4d64-a54a-504b96acab31/LegionBaseball.pdf
The hope is to open June 1 with a period of tryouts, workouts, and pre-season games. The youths would be subject to daily temperature readings. Masks would be difficult to wear on the field but could be worn off the field if required, Harvey said.
The umpire, catcher, and hitters are close to each other. Players spit, chew, and drink out of communal coolers, and pour water on themselves, Harvey said.
“These are things we have to think about,” he said.
In addition to those concerns, the league is under deadline pressure from insurance carriers to decide on a baseball season.
May 15 is the normal deadline for insurance to be paid annually, Harvey said. Many are sitting back and waiting for some guidance on whether there will be any baseball at all.
Another question is will kids play, Harvey said. Will they be allowed by their parents to play?
“We don’t know that yet,” he said. “We are looking for guidance.”
Noise on Calls
The daily meeting began admonishing members to mute their phones when not speaking as on previous days the public could hear them laughing, gasping, and making comments in their homes and offices while their line was live.
“You’ve got to make sure that your phones are muted when you are not speaking,” said D.J. Bettencourt, chairman. “We heard all sorts of interesting noises,” which he described as in some cases annoying and distracting to speakers.
“It has started to be noticed by the public,” Bettencourt said. “People are getting aggravated and I frankly don’t blame them.”
Bettencourt said there was some “encouraging news” with the dentistry guidance.
He said he was on a call Tuesday morning with Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, and his associate Patricia Tilley “and made a lot of progress in getting people comfortable with a final draft.”
Members were working on draft guidance for the industry to allow for elective procedures in addition to emergency visits which dentists have been seeing since March, but no normal cleanings or routine care.
Chan said Monday that there is a priority to work on an opening plan and that dental hygiene was important to public health.
The draft would be going to the dental hygienists association and there is hope they will come to an agreement by Wednesday, Bettencourt said.
He said there would be time taken at the meeting Wednesday to vote on guidance for reopening dentists if there was a draft that could be passed along to the health department and governor.
Bettencourt said there are concerns related to the governor’s guidance for reopening restaurants and campgrounds. He said members are trying to find a compromise on amendments between what the governor decided and the task force recommended.
Though he did not address it, there has also been considerable concerns raised by cosmetologists and hair stylists about Sununu’s limited plans to allow them to reopen for hair cuts and coloring starting Monday, May 11 but not allowing for more lucrative aspects of their salons like nails, waxing, and tanning.
Rest of the Week
The task force will meet by phone daily from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. On Wednesday the task force will work on getting a working group together on churches and how to reopen them, but will not receive presentations at that time.
The task force will receive a presentation on business liability in reopening during COVID-19 in addition to possibly voting on guidance for reopening aspects of dentistry.
On Thursday, it will hear from the massage industry, performance art, and get a public health update.
On Friday, it will take public comment from 9 to 11 a.m. and in the afternoon, receive a presentation on ocean beaches.
To join the call, dial 1-800-356-8278 and use the pin 600744.