By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – As unemployment compensation requests continued to drop along with COVID-19 cases here, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that hotels can open to full capacity as of Monday and a new fund is being established to help provide financial relief for the self-employed.
Applications for money through the federal CARES Act will begin to be taken as of July 6 and the deadline for applications is July 17, Sununu said at his Thursday news conference.
Sununu also confirmed that NASCAR will allow for a race here in Loudon Aug. 2 with 35 percent capacity in the stands for the one-day event, but Bike Week remains in doubt.
He said NASCAR was easier to authorize than Bike Week, which is tentatively rescheduled to August because the seating can be controlled and he argued that fewer out-of-state residents would likely attend than Bike Week.
He said NASCAR is much less risky than say Bike Week or the Deerfield fair, which has canceled this year.
He said cancellation of the Deerfield Fair was “a smart idea,” and he worried that Bike Week could be a super-spread event.
Bike Week is “more challenging. We are going to keep working with these large venues. Bike Week sounds like it could be out there, but we would have to work closely with them to make sure they don’t have a super-spread COVID event.”
Health-care Worker Deaths
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette declined to give further information on health-care workers who have died of COVID-19 other than the statistic on the state’s website that show six have died. She said federal OSHA investigators handle worker deaths, not the state and she did not want to release more information for privacy reasons.
A spokesman for Hackett Hill Center in Manchester confirmed an OSHA investigation at that facility.
“Hackett Hill has a pending OSHA inquiry as a result of the Center’s report to OSHA of an employee death, which we believe was COVID-related,” said spokesman Lori Mayer. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of one of our employees during this very difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the employee’s family.”
Mayer said any potential work-related death would need to be reported to OSHA.
Sununu dismissed the idea of fining out-of-state residents from COVID-19 hotspots who violate a 14-day quarantine request prior to arrival, noting it would be hard to prove.
The governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut this week announced they would begin fining people as much as $10,000 for violating that order to self-quarantine from states seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases.
New Hampshire announced 40 new cases of the virus and 10 news deaths Thursday though the numbers continue to show through testing that about two to three percent of those who are tested for the virus in New Hampshire test positive.
Sununu said the good news on the unemployment front is that the number of requests for weekly pay compensation is down to about 92,000 from a high of 116,000.
He noted it was the first time more people are going off than coming on the unemployment rolls since the pandemic struck in March.
“We are doing well getting the economy back,” he said.
Nursing Home Dining
Next week, some long-term care centers will be able to allow residents to dine together and have entertainment come back into the centers.
Shibinette said this week she is working on guidance to allow that sort of normal return to activities in places in the state where there have been fewer cases of the virus, particularly central and northern areas of the state.
She announced that of the 10 deaths reported yesterday, eight were residents of long-term care facilities. Upwards of 80 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care settings. Active hospitalizations are at some of the lowest levels and more than 137,000 of the state’s population or about 10 percent of residents have been tested for the virus, she said.
Hotels have been open for about three weeks and the smaller ones have been allowed at 100 percent occupancy, but the larger ones have been at 50 percent occupancy. This coming Monday, all can operate at 100 percent occupancy, Sununu said.
“The data continues to trend in a positive direction,” as it relates to hotels, he said.
The out-of-state quarantine will still be in place, requiring all to quarantine for 14 days before arriving here from out of state.
Using a template similar to the Main Street relief program which has provided $320 million to businesses, the state will now offer a similar program with funding up to $50,000 for “mom and pop” businesses. Sununu estimated there may be 10,000 or 15,000 unemployed who could take advantage of this fund through the federal CARES Act.
It will be called SELF an acronym for the Self-Employment Livelihood Fund. These businesses, Sununu said, are “the backbone of the state’s economy.”
Those who qualify have to be located in the state and cannot be a not-for-profit. The business can be temporarily closed, but it is not for those who have declared bankruptcy. Gross receipts must be under $ 1 million a year. The money will be calculated against unemployment benefits.
Volunteer programs will receive an additional $1.5 million like Americorps and City Year, Sununu said, to help “fill the gaps” that the virus has created.
Families and children can pick up Health and Wellness kits at schools and regional pick-up sites next week which include dental kits, prescription disposal pouches, fliers on healthy habits, social and emotional information access.
Additionally, after-school and summer day camp programs will get an additional infusion of money to help stabilize those critical services, Sununu said.
He announced that a total of $40 million will go to these after-school programs, $15 million more than the original $25 million. Over 22,000 children currently participate.