By PAULA TRACY
and CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu said he will not attend President Donald Trump’s campaign rally Saturday night in Portsmouth but will greet him wearing a face mask.
The state does not have a requirement to wear masks in public nor a ban on public gatherings, Sununu said, but urged the thousands expected to attend the Trump rally at the former Pease Air Force Base to wear masks.
When pressed, Sununu said he would not mandate the wearing of masks at the event nor did he say he would explicitly ask the President to do so.
Sununu spoke at his regular Tuesday press conference with national media on the call asking questions as well. He was also greeted by protesters.
About a dozen protesters lined the entrance to the state emergency operations complex off Sheep Davis Road (Route 106) holding signs that read, “Trump Pedals Racism, Sununu Stays Silent,” “Sununu, Stop Trump Superspreader,” “Unmasked: Trump’s Hate,” “Where’s Your Mask, Governor Sununu?” and “Tell Trump No Mask, No visit.”
Sununu said the President wouldn’t have to self-attest to quarantining for 14 days as his order states because that is only for people who are going to stay in New Hampshire, not people coming in for just the day.
Last Thursday, Sununu relaxed the 14-day quarantine requirement for people coming to New Hampshire from the other five New England states, but left it in place for people outside of New England.
Much of the country is going through another surge of the outbreak of the deadly, highly transmissible virus COVID-19, with 35 states seeing increases in positive cases at an average of 50,000 a day.
But New Hampshire and the Northeast is the exception.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, and Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is in a relatively good spot with 19 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, three new hospitalizations and two deaths, both residents of long-term care facilities.
The state now has only six of its more than 200 long-term care facilities with outbreaks of three or more cases of COVID-19 and cleared one from the list Tuesday – Bedford Housing and Rehabilitation Center.
Shibinette said the state has only 25 people in the hospital, the lowest hospitalization rate since March.
“We need everyone to take appropriate cautions for not going in the opposite direction,” Chan said.
Over 130,000 people in the United States have died from the virus so far and close to 400 have died in New Hampshire.
But the Republican governor said he understood why the President is coming and would not stop him, even in a pandemic.
“We’re a swing state. This is a campaign,” Sununu said. “This is a state to be won…my guess.”
He said people over 65 should stay home – though not singling out the 74-year-old nation’s leader, and those who do go should wear face coverings.
Sununu said any governor should always be there to greet the sitting President.
But “I’m not going to put myself in a crowd of thousands of people,” Sununu said. “I try to be extra cautious
A new program to help the self-employed is now available for people to apply for grants now through July 17 at revenue.nh.gov and will be distributed similar to money from the same federal source, the CARES Act, as the state’s Main Street Grant program which has provided over $340 million.
New Hampshire keeps seeing some very, very good progress, Sununu said, with people returning to the workforce.
He noted New Hampshire is in a better position than the rest of New England and saw 4,800 new claims last week, which is an 11 percent decline compared to a national average of 1 percent.
“There are a lot of jobs out there frankly, for people to take advantage of,” Sununu said.
It does not appear that business tax increases will be triggered due to the pandemic, Sununu said.
Though a negotiated settlement in the current budget included tax hikes if a disastrous economic year occurred, and some anticipated due to COVID-19, it at least appears that the trigger will not be met. “I think it is really good news,” Sununu said.
Vermont recently allowed customers of grocery stores to return to bringing their cloth or reusable grocery bags into the stores but Sununu said he is not ready to lift that ban in New Hampshire yet, citing the fragile nature of the national situation.
“We have not made any decision on reusable bags just yet. I am cautious about changing anything more…I don’t want to go backward. Right now we are in a holding pattern and I am a little cautious about flexing these openings,” Sununu said.
He said the risk is from transmission from person to bagger to the next person.
A task force has been looking at reopening schools and Sununu said he spent much of the weekend looking at the resulting “robust document,” which he did not detail.
It is on to Dr. Chan’s desk and he predicted an announcement of what school will look like in the fall either by the end of this week or next week.
He said without giving too much of a preview, the task force focused on what is practical and manageable for teachers, and leaves room for local control.
The task force took input from 50,000 parents and members of the public to help shape the plan, which looks at how schools will deal with outbreaks of COVID-19.