By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The restaurant industry is proposing a registry of customers be kept for 21 days to help in future contact tracing for COVID-19 if needed.
It would simply ask for a customer at a table to provide a name and phone number to help with contacting them if a case of the deadly virus is diagnosed among employees or patrons.
In the past week there have been a number of cases, both reported in the media and unreported, which have closed restaurants.
The Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force voted unanimously Thursday to support the measure, which now goes to the state Health and Human Services Department and then Gov. Chris Sununu.
Mike Somers of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, who proposed the measure, said the industry is “extremely concerned” with media reports about bar and indoor closures due to COVID-19.
He questioned whether people brought the coronavirus into the facility rather than contracting it there.
Some cases are not being reported in the media and health officials say that is because they are either able to identify all impacted or have not yet done contract tracing.
There are four restaurants in Plymouth which are now closed, for example but have not been named in press releases, yet those who have gone to the restaurants and find it closed are expressing concern for possible exposure and exposure to their personal contacts.
Somers asked Trish Tilley, deputy director of the Division of Public Health, how many clusters related to restaurants there are and she did not have an immediate answer.
Such a registry would be helpful, Somers said, in preventing the entire restaurant to be shut down and might focus on an area and other people who were seated near the person with the virus.
Somers said the current approach to publicly announce and seek information from those who were at restaurants at specific times is like a “shotgun blast” in nature and not very searchable.
Such a list will “help us drill down” on the time, contacts, and surroundings, Somers said.
Tilley said the list would be “incredibly helpful to our contact tracers” and help restaurants as well as look at their own staffing issues.
State Rep. Tim Lang, R-Northfield, said he thought the list could be helpful provided it is not used for any marketing or other issue than providing Health and Human Services a list.
D.J. Bettencourt, the governor’s policy director who will bring the vote to the governor, called it a “very fair proposal.”
He said while New Hampshire prides itself in protecting privacy, this measure will help protect public health and businesses.
Bettencourt, who is also chair of the task force, said other states have implemented similar measures.
Currently, under existing COVID-19 guidance, performing arts venues cannot serve food. But the task force approved recommendations to the governor to allow that to resume.
Members said for some venues it is an important part of their business.
In an effort to make the guidelines a bit clearer particularly around runny little noses, the task force approved recommendations to clarify several things.
The first would be about symptoms of COVID-19. The current guidance holds that kids with a runny nose have to go home.
The revisions would allow the child to stay if it is the only COVID-19 symptom. The runny nose would have runny nose be paired up with other COVID-19 symptoms to preclude a child from coming.
A second provision would provide that a sibling need not have to stay home if they do not present the same symptoms as their sick sibling.
The third would be a notice in the guidance related to face masks. It would read that they are not protective of those who are in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
The task force will next meet on Nov. 12.