By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN, InDepthNH.org
New Hampshire Democratic Party officials criticized Gov. Chris Sununu at a Thursday press conference for his refusal to implement a statewide mask mandate, his support of President Donald Trump despite Trump’s efforts to seek repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and allowance of the Trump Campaign to set their own safety guidelines for a planned July rally in Portsmouth, which was cancelled.
These actions, they said, showed that Sununu has not made the safety of New Hampshire residents his first priority.
Joan Jacobs, a former New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services analyst, said that Sununu had broken previous protocol when NH DHHS did not coordinate setting health and safety guidelines with the Trump Campaign for its planned July rally in Portsmouth.
“For other large, in-person events, state health department officials were in contact with event organizers and helped to set guidelines,” Jacobs said. “For the Trump Rally, this wasn’t the case. A right-to-know request asking for all emails to state health department officials regarding the planned rally found no communication between the Trump Campaign and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.”
Multiple speakers came out against what they called a failure by Sununu to support Granite Staters who get healthcare coverage from the Affordable Care Act. Though in past statements Sununu has said he disagrees with the ACA, the state is participating in defense of the law in the nation’s highest court. The speakers’ critique cited Sununu’s continued political support of the president, who has led his party’s efforts to repeal the 2009 law.
The Supreme Court announced early this spring that it would hear a lawsuit from 18 states seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which covers 23 million Americans and 63,000 Granite Staters. Sununu announced in early March that New Hampshire would join other states in defense of the ACA in court.
Sharing his own life-threatening battle with cancer and heart troubles, Gene Faltus, a former speaker at the Democratic National Convention, said that “without [the ACA] people like me would not be alive and have access to healthcare they can afford.” He said he could not understand why Sununu is not against an effort to remove healthcare from so many people during the middle of a pandemic.
Jayme Simoes, New Hampshire State Director of Protect Our Care, a national group advocating expanded healthcare access and lower costs, echoed the critique of Trump’s efforts to curtail and repeal the ACA. He added a potential additional consequence to repealing it.
“The Affordable Care Act offers free vaccinations for all Americans under law,” Simoes highlighted. “Strike it down and it will be very hard to get people vaccinated to fight COVID-19.”
In response to these claims that he does not support the ACA and the Granite Staters it covers, Sununu’s office said in an email to InDepthNH.org, “That is a lie, and has been covered extensively by many media outlets in the state. The state is quite literally defending the ACA in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Rich DiPentima, former Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology at the New Hampshire Division of Public Health, underlined the stress and consequences caused by the absence of a mask mandate in the state. He said that not having a mask rule had contributed to the high rate of death in long-term care facilities in the state. “Every long-term care death can be linked to community transmission,” he said, which could have been mitigated by required mask wearing in public.
Calling it “ridiculous,” DiPentima also criticized Sununu’s new mask rule for events with over 100 attendees. “The virus can’t count,” he said, “If we have groups of 95, 80, or even 70, we are going to have massive amounts of transmission.” He predicted that the influx of non-residents at Bike Week and the resumption of college classes would cause a spike in the state.
Sununu’s office defended the rule: “The Governor issued a commonsense executive order that mandates masks at events over 100 people — which includes bike week and any event on a college campus with large crowds.”
DiPentima went on to discuss the relatively low case count in New Hampshire and said that Sununu “is getting credit for things not because of his actions” but as a result of the already low case count in New Hampshire and low population density.
Sununu’s office responded to this statement saying, “Under Governor Chris Sununu’s leadership, New Hampshire has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the entire country, and no spin or press conference from the Democrats will change that fact.”