CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu told The Washington Post in a Tuesday interview he predicts the summer season in New Hampshire will look more like 2019 than 2020 thanks to a swift rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Sununu was speaking to Post columnist Karen Tumulty about his reopening plans as part of the Post's "Leadership During a Crisis" online series.
The Post credited Sununu with, among other things, "swiftly" expanding unemployment benefits, securing tens of millions of personal protective equipment and creating a system to oversee the "fair and transparent disbursement" of $1.25 billion in CARES Act money.
Others who have been interviewed for the series include presidential health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottir, governors from other states and big-city mayors.
Tumulty started out by saying she wished she could be in New Hampshire where the spring is "lovely" and the summer is "absolutely gorgeous."
"I tell people all the time, plan big, summer is going to be really strong here in New Hampshire," responded Sununu. "It's going to look a lot like a lot more like 2019 than then 2020. I think there's going to be a lot of cash out in the economy. Tourism is going to be booming."
He continued that anyone who wants the vaccine can get it and predicted that the few remaining restrictions in New Hampshire will be gone by the summer.
COVID vaccines were opened up in New Hampshire to anyone 16 years old or older as of last Friday.
"We're kind of getting back to normal. I think we've already had one of the strongest economies in the country, never mind the Northeast," said Sununu. "There's just this overwhelming swell of people that say, 'Look, I got robbed of a vacation in 2020, I got robbed of a few things, we had to make sacrifices'... People want to want to be out there, and they want to get back to normal, and New Hampshire is going to be the place to do it."
According to The New York Times' vaccine rollout tracker, as of Tuesday morning, New Hampshire was in second place behind Palau when it came to giving its residents at least one shot. The tracker showed New Hampshire had given one shot to 42 percent of its people, trailing Palau, which had 47 percent. When it comes to full vaccination, New Hampshire was in 26th place with 20 percent.
Back when the vaccine supply was limited, Sununu said he prioritized the people who were at the highest risk — health-care workers and first responders, Sununu told Tumulty. After that it was parsed out by age group.
"We obviously got letters from the teachers union, from the meatpacking association, from the auto dealers; I mean, everybody sent letters about why their employees should be first, why they're essential and all of that," he said.
But, "when you start picking and choosing people solely based on employment, but not based on risk, you really get into, again, picking winners and losers and politics and all that sort of nonsense," said Sununu, adding he did prioritize teachers, making them the Phase 2A group.
"The question I had to put forth was looking at a 30-year-old, healthy teacher getting a vaccine before a 65-year-old grandmother that has been waiting patiently for a year? Well, no, that doesn't make much sense; the grandmother has to go first, she is clearly of higher risk," he said.
"But once we got through that elderly population that made up about 97 percent of our fatalities in New Hampshire, then we did teachers because we wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable getting back" into the classroom, he said.
Sununu said he's eager to get students back to school and the state is pushing to make that happen five days a week by April 19 with reasonable guidelines.
"Other than the fatalities of COVID, the second biggest victim of the COVID crisis is these kids, the mental health aspects, the socialization, the issues of child abuse that has had gone undetected and unseen across this country," said Sununu. "It's really severe."
Asked about President Joe Biden asking states not to lift the mask mandate, Sununu, a Republican, replied that he didn't think that necessarily pertained to New Hampshire. He said Washington was looking at the country overall.
"While I appreciate that the sentiments out of Washington, they're looking at 350 million people across the country," he said.
"Here in New Hampshire, we've just been very successful, we're in the fastest states to roll out vaccines, one of the lowest fatality rates in the country, one of the strongest economies, we found that balance, and I think it's a very strong and good balance to get people back to work," said Sununu, who went on to say he is a big believer in local control.
Asked about vaccine passports, Sununu said the vaccine, which is still "experimental" should not be mandated.
"As soon as you get into the vaccine passport, the haves and the have-nots, that type of disparity, you are going to create a lot of problems in society, frankly," said Sununu adding a vaccine passport would also be politically unpopular.
"You're gonna get pushback, not just from the Republicans or Democrats but from everybody. I just think it's not the right path for us at this time."
Tumulty took a written question from a New Hampshire listener, Thea Lahti, who asked: "Why did you ease COVID-19 restrictions when public health officials were announcing that this surge of the more contagious variant that could be an anticipated across the United States?"
Sununu replied it appears the vaccines are also working against COVID-19 variants. He said it would be great if COVID-19 was eliminated in New Hampshire but that's unlikely to happen.
By lifting the restrictions, he said, "There's more risk of transmission but there's not necessarily a higher risk of fatality or overrunning the health-care system, which is why all these restrictions were put in on the first place."