Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu announced revisions to New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order that will allow some currently closed business to reopen. The phased reopening comes as well over 100,000 New Hampshire citizens are unemployed, as are 30 million Americans.
Gov. Sununu is taking a cautious approach that balances the continued need for public health safety against the dire circumstances so many hard-working families and businesses find themselves in.
Starting immediately, New Hampshire’s 26 hospitals can resume treating patients for time-sensitive procedures. For almost two months, patients have not been able to access needed care for anything other than an emergency in order to preserve hospital capacity to treat the expected surge of virus patients. That surge, thankfully, did not occur as the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 has leveled off at slightly over 100 patients in New Hampshire.
With the governor’s order, hospitals can resume procedures such as CT scans, MRIs, joint replacements and biopsies. Hospitals will have to segregate COVID-19 patients from others and restrict visitors.
This is welcome news for patients. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum outlined the risks for non COVID-19 patients who have not had normal care for almost two months. She wrote, “Cancer care, which often involves immunosuppressive therapy, tumor resection, and inpatient treatment, has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”
The governor’s order is good news for furloughed hospital employees who can begin to return to work.
But two long-term questions will have to be answered. Has our health-care delivery system been undermined by the financial impact to healt- care institutions? Will the lack of care for two months that patients have experienced have a profound impact on the nation’s overall health?
The governor’s order also allows some New Hampshire businesses to begin the process of reopening. Starting Monday, retail stores that have been closed can reopen. Employees and customers will be expected to wear a mask, and the number of people at any one time in a store cannot exceed 50 percent of the store’s capacity as determined by fire codes.
Hair salons and barbershops will be able to reopen on a reservation-only basis. Both the customer and the employee will need to also wear a mask and there will be distancing and sanitizing requirements.
State parks and golf courses can reopen with the exception of beaches that are state parks. Golf courses will only be open to members or New Hampshire residents but will not be able to open their club house restaurants except for takeout.
The governor’s order allows campgrounds to remain open to either members or New Hampshire residents. Access to common areas of the campground will be restricted and distancing within the campground required. I remain concerned about open campgrounds, as do many public safety and municipal officials. Hopefully the restriction for New Hampshire residents will minimize the risk of virus spread.
Restaurants will be able to do a limited opening starting May 18. To begin with, the only seating allowed will be outdoors with a maximum of six people at a table and tables at least 6 feet apart. Staff will have to wear masks.
The task force appointed by the governor to produce guidance on reopening will continue to meet as many other business categories need to be taken into account. Those businesses range from other health-care providers like dentists, to hotels and large venues.
As we approach the short summer season, it’s vital that we get these businesses open both successfully and safely.
It will be critical that New Hampshire continue to show progress in containing the virus. Testing for the virus and acquisition of protective gear are moving in the right direction. Nearly 27,000 virus tests have been conducted and the state is on track to complete 1500 tests per day.
Individuals are able to schedule antibody tests to determine if they have contracted the virus. Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 will need to continue to remain stable. With more testing the percentage of positive tests will need to continue to decline. All of us will have to continue to practice the appropriate discipline of distancing, wearing masks and good hygiene.
With continued progress, the phased reopening of New Hampshire can and should continue. We must prioritize both safety and economic viability of New Hampshire’s hard-working people and small businesses. We can do both together and the governor’s order is a good first step.
Please keep safe and healthy and if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact me at (603) 387-2365.
Jeb Bradley is a Republican state senator from Wolfeboro.