CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t wear a face mask while shaking hands with elementary school kids at an Executive Council meeting this week, despite the fact that COVID-19 cases have surged to record highs in New Hampshire, stirring concern in some quarters.
On Monday, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced hours after the meeting that 3,155 new COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths and 343 hospitalizations had occurred, mostly from Friday through Sunday with a few from the week before. The record high numbers included 790 infections in children under age 18.
Sununu didn’t mention the numbers at the meeting.
While there were no pardoned turkeys this year at the Thanksgiving Executive Council table, Sununu noted some semblance of normalcy as he was able to shake hands with students touring the State House, one of his favorite duties as governor.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing face masks in public buildings where the community transmission rate is substantial or high as it is in New Hampshire and New England. Masks are optional at the State House.
The students from Londonderry who attend the Matthew Thornton Elementary School did wear face masks while shaking Sununu’s hand at the meeting. Sununu is rarely seen wearing a face mask indoors.
That Sununu greeted mask-wearing children without wearing one himself was concerning to state Sen. Tom Sherman (R-Rye), who is a physician.
“It baffles me that the governor refuses to lead by example as our communities struggle with record high case and hospitalization rates,” Sherman told InDepthNH.org.
“While he predicts the pandemic will grow worse in New Hampshire, he himself doesn’t even follow CDC guidelines to protect himself and those around him from this deadly virus,” Sherman said.
This was the first time since June that the council was back in its chambers on the second floor of the State House after a summer of touring the various districts and visiting Franconia, Keene, Nashua and Manchester.
In recent weeks, due to security concerns because of protesters against the council finally accepting $22.5 million in federal funds to boost vaccines, the meetings have been held at the Department of Environmental Services auditorium and at the State Police Academy.
Republican Councilor David Wheeler attended Monday’s meeting remotely from his Milford home, but other councilors were at the table Monday.
While many people attended Executive Council meetings this summer without face masks, about 20 percent of the attendees wore masks Monday, an apparent response to the growing surge.
Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas (R-Manchester) sounded the alarm Monday that marijuana is being laced by fentanyl in the state and he called for the council to draft a memo to the Senate President and Speaker of the House to bring attention to the need for enhanced penalties.
Sununu, who with Education Commissioner Frank Edleblut noted the virtual anti-drug seminar for youth scheduled for Tuesday will be almost double the size of an in-person event held a few years ago, said this is a concern the state needs to address.
“This is very scary, governor,” Gatsas said. Sununu responded that during an upcoming breakfast meeting, health and education leaders should address Gatsas’ concerns, which was agreed to by the Council.
Sununu offered a proclamation for Thanksgiving with members of the New Hampshire Mayflower Society. Attending the meeting were several members of the society. The proclamation says the first Thanksgiving holiday was declared by President Abraham Lincoln after being pressed by writer and New Hampshire native Sarah Josepha Hale to do so.
Jay and Karen Lucas of Portsmouth were recognized for their philanthropic efforts through scholarships offered to the Children of the Fallen Patriots. Nationally, 2,000 children of soldiers have been able to take advantage of the scholarships. For each dollar donated, Jay Lucas said, 98 cents will go to the children at fallenpatriots.org.
Elizabeth Bielecki of Bedford has resigned as director of the Division of Motor Vehicles. She was praised by Sununu and Councilor Joe Kenney (R-Wakefield) for her response to the public during the pandemic and other times in her 19-year career.
Carollynn Lear of Goffstown was confirmed as assistant commissioner of the state Department of Revenue Administration. She will receive a salary of $132,866 a year.
Two members of the Community College System Board of Trustees were confirmed: Donnalee Lozeau of Nashua representing the general public, and Richard Ackerman of Lebanon for the technology sector.
The council approved a late agenda item for COVID-19 testing at home.
Jonathan Bowers said the antigen test production went down this summer but now the state is seeing an increase in demand for such at-home tests. The cost is nothing to the recipient; the money is coming from FEMA.
Kenney said, “I support this, particularly as I represent many rural areas. This can only be used to fend off COVID-19.”
A contract of about $17 million to help restaurants was tabled for two weeks to get more information at the request of Councilor Cinde Warmington (D-Concord).