By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu announced the June 1 reopening of Hampton Beach and the other ocean beaches on Friday for exercise-only, no sunbathing.
Softball and baseball practice and yard sales can restart immediately. And next week, Sununu said yoga and Zumba classes can begin at the gym, along with many personal care businesses like tattoo, massage, nails, and tanning, with restrictions.
Sununu expanded his “Stay-at-Home 2.0” flex open to those activities and industries and made clarifications to others, including daycare guidance in his press briefing on Friday.
“We still have a lot of issues in the state with dealing with COVID but we have a lot of tools,” Sununu said, noting that while the state may be slower than others to open, it might make the best sense in the long run.
The announcement came as the state announced 81 new cases of COVID-19 and the death of five more residents for a total of 204 deaths.
It also came at a time when the state’s first case of child multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) was announced in a child from Hillsborough County. This syndrome, which involves rashes and stomach inflammation, also is believed to be somehow linked to COVID-19, said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist.
He said the child is still hospitalized but recovering and only say the child is under age 19. It is something the CDC is investigating and he noted pediatricians were recently notified to be on the look-out for such symptoms.
Massachusetts, which has 10 times the number of COVID-19 cases, will see its beaches open on Monday, Memorial Day but Sununu’s plan is to wait and see how that goes for a week before allowing beaches in Rye, North Hampton, and Hampton Beach to reopen for transitory activities such as walking, running, swimming and surfing.
Asked about lounging on the beach on a blanket, Sununu said, “we are not there yet.”
“This is not a time to just go drop your blanket,” Sununu said. The point is that by keeping people moving in the outdoors there is less of a chance of the respiratory virus to spread.
“It’s really about active recreation,” Sununu said. “Hopefully…if the data gets better,” it can allow for beach sunbathing later in the summer, he added.
State parking lots will be limited to 50 percent capacity. There will be no prohibition on private lots and he said he would leave up to local officials on whether to open municipal lots. He said there will be efforts to enhance social distancing around Hampton Beach by closing down Ocean Boulevard to make it into “a giant sidewalk.”
That will occur from June 1 to Labor Day to allow for a better pedestrian experience, he said. One-way traffic would be allowed to the north from A to O Streets and Ashworth Avenue will become a two-way road. He said there will be open air seating only and retail will have to adhere to existing retail guidelines in terms of capacity, hygiene, and sanitization.
Sununu said he signed an emergency order to allow state boater education courses to be taken online, and sometime next week that will become available.
This is usually the kick-off weekend for yard sales, Sununu noted.
“We know residents are safer at home,” he said but so long as people practice social distancing and use good hygiene, sales can go on as of this weekend.
Gatherings Not Allowed
This weekend is typically a big cookout time and the guidance from Sununu is to use good judgment.
“The stay at home order is still in place,” Sununu said noting that gatherings of 10 or more are not allowed. “The cookout police are not going to come to your house, but we just want people to be safe.”
Drivers around the state Friday in advance of the holiday weekend are seeing electronic signboards on the highway asking people to “stay local.” Sununu said people from Massachusetts should “stay local.”
“It’s just that. We have a stay-at-home order. They have a stay-at-home order,” Sununu said. “If they are here for a long-term stay we ask them to quarantine,” for 14 days.
Sununu said he could not control the border but said New Hampshire is not in a position yet to overly encourage folks to come.
“We want to encourage folks to stay,” at their homes.
Asked if he would mandate indoor use of cloth masks, as a way to reduce the community spread of the virus, Sununu said he is not going to mandate that.
“We are on the positive side with our numbers coming down,” Sununu said. While some businesses may require employees to wear masks, Sununu said he would not mandate masks in public spaces.
He noted he was at the grocery store at about 8 p.m. Thursday and though there were not many people there, “literally everyone was wearing a mask. People take it very responsibly.”
While Sununu says no to a mask order statewide, in Nashua an Emergency Public Health Order is now in effect requiring the general public to wear face coverings in situations where they cannot maintain social distancing (six feet of distance between themselves and others).
First approved by the city’s Board of Health and passed on Thursday, May 21, by the Board of Aldermen, the order is expected to reduce asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19 within our community. It is effective immediately and until further notice.
Earlier Friday, the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force recommended that hotels, motels, cabins, and short-term rentals could open to New Hampshire residents and others who sign a document attesting to their good health practices during the pandemic.
The lodging industry is desperate to open up as their busy summer season begins without them. The recommendation has to go to public health officials and Sununu before he will make a decision.
Sununu has said previously that lodging is a “tough one” as he does not want to attract people who may have the virus into the state, particularly its rural regions, which have been largely spared the worst of COVID-19 compared to neighboring Massachusetts.
Liquor Store Worker
Sununu was asked about a case of COVID-19 in a liquor store employee in Manchester and he said there was one. The store was closed and contact tracing is being done for that store.
Four of the five deaths reported Friday were in cases of individuals who live at one of the extended care facilities which are currently suffering an outbreak of more than three cases of COVID-19, said Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Individuals who were living at Crestwood Center in Milford, The Greenbriar in Nashua, Hillsborough County Nursing Home, and Mountain Ridge in Franklin were among the reported deaths on Friday, Shibinette said.
In addition, more nursing homes have been added to the category of having a cluster outbreak. They include Bedford Nursing and Rehab with 13 residents and four staff testing positive, and Graystone in Salem with five residents and four staff testing positive.
Shibinette said of all the state’s roughly 75 nursing homes have been given testing kits and the hope is that all residents and staff will have been tested by next week. So far, more than 8,000 staff have been tested, she said.
A total of 4,014 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed here and there are currently 15 hospitalized with 408 requiring hospitalization over the course of the past two months.
The state has tested over 72,000 of its 1.3 million people, averaging 2,000 a day, officials said, and more testing will be offered next week, including all child care workers and those who live with an individual with any preexisting conditions that would make them more susceptible to the virus.
Sununu said child care guidance issued recently is being revised to allow for more flexibility with respect to use of space configurations, density, and face masks among workers. He said he heard a lot of feedback and “we want to make it flexible with a solid sense of safety for the public and children,” and he said he did not want to see centers close.
Sununu acknowledged that this crisis has been hard on kids in many ways including loss of playdates, sports, school, and social interactions. He began his list of new openings by saying that sports with little contact such as softball and baseball, could begin practice today with groups of 10 or fewer as a start.
The guidance for athletes, coaches, and parents is on this website as are other announced openings. Guidance. https://www.covidguidance.nh.gov/
As of June 1, he said, the following could open as well:
Fitness Centers offering structured classes-only like yoga and Zumba where social distancing can be allowed. In terms of using the equipment to work out, “we’re not there yet for a normal gym situation.”
Also allowed to open June 1 but not required are aspects of the personal care industry such as acupuncture, massage, tattoos, tanning and nail salons. The guidance calls for strict social distancing and sanitization.
Masks At Cost
A few weeks ago the governor set up a portal online to take orders from state businesses for the masks. In that period of time it took 15,000 orders for 7 million masks.
The state still has more but is now offering them to the public at its 80 liquor stores to be sold at cost.
“We want to make it available to everyone for a reasonable rate,” Sununu said.
Small businesses have until May 29 to apply for the $400 Million Main Street Relief Fund at revenue.nh.gov.
Sununu said over 6,500 businesses have responded.
“We want businesses to apply,” he said, to help with financial losses from COVID to help pay their bills and keep the businesses viable.
Finally, Sununu said his new guidance to reopen aspects of life in New Hampshire as we knew it “won’t make everybody happy.”
But he said it has been a stakeholder-driven process and that his advisory task force has listened and unanimously agreed on the guidance he is now putting into play.
“We do apologize if these guidance documents don’t work for everybody,” he said. But, he noted, “We still have lots of illness.”
Under his “Stay-at-Home 2.0” flex openings, Sununu has already opened 11 sectors of the state’s economy.
The most recent group was on May 18 with the openings of outdoor dining, some nature-based attractions and guide services, and equestrian services. On May 11 he opened golf, hair salons, and barbershops for cuts and simple procedures only, drive-in theaters, and routine dental service. The first to open May 4 were hospitals for routine surgeries, manufacturing, campgrounds, and limited interior state park use.