By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONWAY – After testing negative for COVID-19 this week Gov. Chris Sununu was resting at home Thursday, but some are concerned that he is not leading an effort to require masks indoors in New Hampshire as the Delta variant surges across the country.
Sununu has stressed that masks are not the way out of the pandemic, that vaccinations are the way forward.
The 46-year-old Newfields resident and father of three waited his turn and received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 11 at a mass vaccination event at New Hampshire International Speedway.
He has worn masks at times in public but attended at least five public events in five days in which he was photographed not wearing a mask.
Last Sunday, he hosted one of a series of Super603 celebrations for the public in lieu of an inaugural ball, and as a gesture of a return to more normal life before the pandemic on the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway.
About 280 guests, including many families with children who cannot be vaccinated and are under the age of 12 attended, and about 10 percent wore masks, said railroad spokesman Brian Solomon.
Solomon said the event was considered a charter of sorts and the tickets and details and rules of wearing masks were left to the governor’s staff.
On its website, the excursion train noted it “strongly encourages unvaccinated guests to wear face masks” but Solomon noted the governor and his staff were essentially hosting a private function and they called the shots.
One Facebook viewer, reacting to the photo of the unmasked governor, kneeling next to several unmasked children was upset.
Suzy Willow Kjellberg wrote, “By god, WHERE IS YOUR MASK? You are supposed to lead us OUT of this pandemic, not further into it.”
Boston has gone to a mask mandate for all indoor venues as of last week due to the spread of the Delta variant, and even Fenway Park, an outdoor venue and home to the Boston Red Sox, now requires masks unless patrons are eating or drinking.
Many stores in the state, including the tourist destination of North Conway, are urging those coming indoors to shop to wear masks.
Solomon noted that the train is different than Amtrack or Concord Trailways or flights out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport because they are not under federal transportation dictates and are treated more like an amusement park where the rules are largely dictated by the state and the governor.
And there are no more rules from the governor as the state of emergency in New Hampshire has been lifted.
“Obviously, it is a concern,” Solomon said of the growing cases of COVID-19 in the state and in other parts of New England and the country, but he noted that, unlike a New York subway train car which can hold 200 in a single-car and make 16 stops in an hour, with people coming and going, the Conway Scenic Railroad has a maximum capacity of about 88 and an average of about 60 and no stops during that hour or change in passengers.
Currently, he said, about 20 percent of those who are riding the train are wearing masks though the website cover page reads “to comply with State of New Hampshire mandates all guests are required to wear masks,” but it also noted the exception of the option for private gatherings where masks are not needed to be worn.
He noted that the main concern for the railroad is a lack of staff, with about 30 percent of employees – many of them long-timers – opting to retire or resign.
Solomon noted that the governor’s three-hour train ride up to Sawyer, five miles west of Bartlett, included a celebration for the railroad’s longest-serving employee, George Small, and a new rail car dedicated in his name.
Small began work for the railroad in 1975 and is a master carpenter, responsible for many of the augmentations to the rail cars since COVID-19 to keep people safe, Solomon said.
With businesses concerned about what staff they have, masks are becoming more prevalent in stores, even outdoor events such as memorial services, at the Post Office, and rules at schools depend on the school and are all subject to change as the number of cases changes.
Sununu conceded that “much of the United States is facing a tidal wave from the Delta variant” in advance of and in explanation for his trip to Kentucky on Monday to learn what the Bluegrass state was doing better than others, in ensuring its health care system is not overwhelmed.
His visit to several medical centers there with a contingent of New Hampshire hospital officials came on the day that the governor of Kentucky’s website noted that the state had hit a record for the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19.
Two days later, Sununu said he awoke with COVID-like symptoms, canceled the scheduled Executive Council meeting, and proceeded to take three COVID-19 tests, all of which were negative for the virus.
Solomon said he was not aware of any calls or concerns for the health of those who attended the Super603 tour after news of the governor’s illness circulated.
He said going forward into what is traditionally the railroad’s busiest fall foliage season, he said one of the foremost concerns is for employees to remain healthy so that the excursion trips are uninterrupted by lack of staff.
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org