Governor gives new Re-opening Task Force its roadmap
Its charge: ‘you will be trying to define the new normal’
When the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force met for the first time yesterday afternoon Gov. Chris Sununu told its 19 members that rather than “planning for a return to normal, you will be trying to define the new normal,” clearly signaling his appreciation of the gravity of the crisis wrought by Covid-19.
The governor stressed that steps to breathe life into New Hampshire’s economy must be taken in tandem not only with close monitoring of the virus but also with preparations and protocols in anticipation of “likely another surge in the fall or winter.” And, he said, “we’ve been writing the playbook, and we must avoid continually rewriting the playbook.”
The governor envisaged “a smart, phased approach rooted in science and data” and tailored to the unique circumstances of New Hampshire. At the same time, he said there are ongoing conversations with officials of neighboring states, and while there is no pact, like those centered in New York, California and the Midwest, ”we are on the same page and agree that the timing should be relatively the same.”
The task force includes Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, Lois Harnois of the Division of Travel and Tourism Development, and Phil Bryce of the Division of Parks and Recreation, together with lawmakers from both the Senate and House and representatives of both private business and the nonprofit community.
A “roadmap” distributed to the task force directed it to “develop a plan and oversee the public and private sector actions needed to reopen New Hampshire’s economy while minimizing the adverse impact on public health.” Stay-at-home and social distancing measures will remain in place “until transmission has measurably slowed down” and “the capacity of the healthcare system is sufficient to manage the outbreak and care for the sick.”
The plan to reopen will be guided by principles developed in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, which will review the task force’s recommendations. Public health officials will continue to track the virus. Testing and contact tracing will be expanded. The capacity of the healthcare system will be sustained. DHHS will work industry groups and particular firms to prepare operational plans for phased openings with measures to safeguard employees and customers.
Businesses will be asked to specify how they intend to maintain social distancing, ensure continuous disinfection of shared spaces and provide necessary personal protective equipment. They must also develop protocols to protect vulnerable populations and means of encouraging new behavioral as well as policies for managing telework to enhance social distancing and monitoring sick individuals in the workplace.
Finally, the task force is charged with addressing several issues facing the workforce.
Some employees, especially those over 50, may be reluctant to return to work, while the difference between unemployment compensation and market wages may encourage others to stay out. Without adequate staff, businesses may find it difficult to comply with public health protocols. At the same time, the task force should consider measure to protect businesses complying with public health protocols from liability should either employees or customers sicken on their premises.
The governor referred to summer programming for children, in particular summer camps and Boys & Girls Clubs, as an immediate priority for the task force. Apart from ensuring the wellbeing of children, adequate childcare in the summer months will be require to enable working couples to return to work.
The task force will meet at 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at for the next several week. Thursday afternoon’s agenda includes the restaurant, food service and hospitality industries, and on Friday the retail, manufacturing and recreational sectors, along with the arts community. The meetings take the form of teleconferences and are open to the public. The number and code required to listen to the meetings are posted at https://www.nheconomy.com/ and the Governor’s website at nh.gov.
The first meeting drew more than the 500 listeners callers the system could handle, and steps are underway to expand its capacity.