By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu announced that he is letting New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order of the past three months expire on Monday, replacing it with an advisory and lifting entirely the maximum group gatherings of 10 or fewer.
In a press conference Thursday, he also announced millions of federal dollars will be distributed to help private colleges and universities, increase homeless shelter capacity, build a fund for renters, and expand “the last mile” for broadband service.
He stressed that the elderly should still focus on staying at home to protect them from the COVID-19 virus but he said the data continue to show stabilization or decline in its impact on the state, and New Hampshire now has more tools to deal with an outbreak than it did several months ago.
“The data supports what we are doing,” Sununu said.
An updated list of all things opening and what limitations are is available at https://www.covidguidance.nh.gov/
Seven New Deaths
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of state Health and Human Services, announced there have been 308 total deaths and seven new deaths on Thursday and 34 new cases of the virus totaling 5,209 overall since March.
All of Thursday’s deaths and more than 80 percent of the total in the state have been related to residents of long-term care facilities. The commissioner also reported four new hospitalizations with 504 seeking hospitalization at some point during their illness.
Testing for the virus has expanded with 97,000 of the state’s 1.3 million residents now tested. Anyone can be tested without symptoms, an opportunity Shibinette urged everyone to avail themselves of, noting it helps to track and prevent transmission of the highly contagious respiratory virus. She maintained that some asymptomatic transmission may be occurring, and testing would help reduce that.
She reported one cluster outbreak of three or more cases at Bedford Hills with nine residents and 11 staff testing positive for COVID-19. She also announced one outbreak was closed with no new cases in two weeks at the Kimi Nichols Center of Plaistow.
She said there is no contact tracing yet that identifies a “super spread” from some of the Black Lives Matter marches that were held across the state almost a week ago, but that is still being watched and is early to determine.
More CARES Act Allocations
Sununu announced more of the $1.2 billion in federal CARES Act funding will go to a number of sectors of the economy impacted by COVID-19 and noted it will still leave millions for a potential second wave of the virus. All those dollars have to be spent by the end of December.
But he assured that money will be spent all to offset losses to the state from the pandemic. He noted that a midnight deadline tomorrow exists for those who have applied for $400 million for the “Main Street” small business fund and already, 7,000 have completed their final submissions.
$35M Housing Relief
While announcing that emergency protections from evictions will terminate on July 1, the money will be available to help renters pay their landlords. He said data from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority shows that renters are twice as likely to have lost their job from COVID-19 than homeowners.
This will be a one-time grant to the households which are threatened by eviction in a short-term rental assistance program. He said the money will “provide an offramp as we lift the moratorium on evictions.”
The orders related to evictions will extend a seven-day foreclosure window to 30 days to provide a little more flexibility. The problem, he said, is that about 90 percent of rentals are owned by landlords who only have a handful of units.
“When they don’t have rents coming in,” he said. “It creates this domino effect,” in the economy.
The state has been able to deal with COVID-19 in large part because of broadband access established a decade ago which has helped with telehealth, remote learning and working from home, Sununu said, but to expand it to more rural areas, he is going to provide $50 million in funding through the CARES Act “to complete the last mile.”
The pandemic, he said, “exposed the digital divide in New Hampshire.” The funding will allow more to get connected.
$15M To Homeless Shelters
Sununu wants to be able to expand capacity at homeless shelters to deal with the needs there and will use $15 million from the CARES Act to increase the number of beds and meals that can be provided to the more than 1,000 residents of the state who are homeless or have insecure housing situations.
$2M for Chambers
The state’s chambers of commerce have fallen through the cracks of federal money because of their tax status but the governor announced a state partnership with them to help their communities with business and tourism information.
Sununu called them “amazing institutions,” that connect communities that are facing hard times due to the pandemic.
Instead of handing out grants, this partnership will allow more doors to open and more connectivity between the state and chambers, he said.
$10M To Private Colleges
While these institutions enjoyed an early grant round, Sununu is offering $10 million more to engage with colleges and private universities to recover “COVID costs” and expenses they had to bear because of the crisis.
The money will be allocated in a way that makes sure that “those institutions at most need are at the front of the line,” he said.
$30M To Long-Term Care
To ensure that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities survive the COVID-19 crisis, grants will be offered, totaling $30 million to keep the doors open, Sununu said. That federal money will be available on an application basis which is soon going live.
These is one area of the economy that will be dealing with the pandemic longer than most and there will be “inevitable financial hardship. We want these CARES act funds there for them.”
$60M To Nonprofits
Applications are available today for $60 million to help nonprofits and Sununu did not preclude spending more money in the future to help state nonprofits. The money will be allocated through the Community Development Finance Authority and the New Hampshire Charitable Trust.
Flex Openings June 15
The stay-at-home order will expire Monday, June 15, and transition to an advisory, eliminating any limits on social gathering size.
Most businesses will be able to be open, with some limitations, using universal guidelines for cleaning.
Included for opening that day are:
– gyms at 50 percent capacity
– amateur sports and indoor athletic facilities
– running and road races
– bowling alleys
– tourist trains
– organized motorcycle rides
– small race tracks
Most will be able to open at 50 percent capacity with six feet of social distance between groups and individuals. Still being worked on are plans to open large venues like NASCAR at the Speedway, which will be held and charitable gaming and funeral homes.
Openings Planned for June 29
While guidance documents are not finalized, the governor said he hopes to have movie theaters and amusement parks open with capacity limitations.
The hope is to make the summer “survivable” for the tourist industry, and he said he hopes that if the numbers continue to trend downward, “I think July and August our numbers are going to look pretty good,” to help the state’s economy and tax coffers.