Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a news conference on Thursday at the NH Fire Academy in Concord. (JEFFREY HASTINGS PHOTO)

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu is issuing a stay-at-home order and closing state beaches on the Seacoast effective Friday at midnight. He is also extending public school closures until May 4 to stem the spread of COVID-19. Sununu, a Republican who has been under pressure by Democrats to issue such a directive, made clear that a stay-at-home order is less restrictive than a shelter-in-place order. “The state of New Hampshire will be issuing a stay-at-home order directing all non-essential businesses that have not already voluntarily closed to end in-person and public interacting operations by midnight Friday, March 27,” Sununu said at a 3 p.m. news conference Thursday in Concord. “We cannot stress this enough. You should stay in your house unless absolutely necessary,” Sununu said. Sununu also announced a public-private partnership with help from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to keep child-care centers open for essential workers. Over the past 24 hours, Sununu said he has received calls asking him to sign a mandatory shelter-in-place order. “This is not a shelter-in-place. We are not closing down transportation, not closing our borders and no one will be prevented from leaving their home.” Sununu said the state is aligning with regional partners who have issued similar orders. “I’d like to add some clarity that health-care facilities, gas stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, hardware stores, homeless shelters, food banks, animal health services, restaurants, breweries, just to name a few are all considered essential,” Sununu said. Restaurants and bars are open for takeout and delivery only. Gatherings of more than 10 people have already been prohibited. Sununu continued: “This is not an enforcement effort and people will not be ‘harassed’ if they are not at home,” he said. People are free to go for a walk, to the grocery store, to work and essential functions, but should otherwise stay at home, Sununu said. That is especially true for people over 60 with underlying health issues. By extending the distance learning for children who are at home until May 4 will provide parents, teachers and students the ability for longer term planning, he said. “There are tough decisions. They really are,” he said. “The worst may be still ahead of us and I have the responsibility for doing what is right for the 1.3 million Granite Staters in our great state.” News of remote learning being extended from April 3 to May 4 “didn’t come as a big surprise” to SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard. “It is what it is, you just put your head down and go with it,” he said by phone. “I know it’s been a long week for people and now we need to get into a routine that’s going to be longer than we had hoped.” Richard said all school personnel, teachers and staff, are deemed essential under Sununu’s order.

Reporter Lloyd Jones contributed to this article.

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