Memorial Day weekend reopening seen for NH lodging facilities

Governor’s task force also draws up rules for attractions, fitness and performing arts centers
Dj Bettencourt

D.J. Bettencourt is chair of the governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force

New Hampshire’s lodging industry should be allowed to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, though the ultimate decision rests with the governor, with the advice of public health officials, the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force recommended on Tuesday.

The task force, meeting remotely, also passed guidelines to allow fitness centers, many outdoor attractions, audience-free arts performances, massage therapists and equestrian facilities to open, all without a recommended date.

The votes – taken the day that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned a U.S. Senate panel that reopening the U.S. economy too quickly could lead to avoidable “suffering and death“ – were all unanimous, with no debate, although there some discussion about some of the details in many of the guidelines the previous day.

The task force recommended that lodging establishments, including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, short-term rentals and cabins – be reopened on Friday, May 22. That would be four days after restaurants reopen for outdoor seating on May 18, which would be a week after the May 11 opening of retail stores and golf courses.

D.J. Bettencourt, the governor’s policy director who has been chairing the task force, said Gov. Chris Sununu could decide on some reopening dates before deciding what to do about the state’s general stay-at-home order, which expires on May 31.

The shutdown of the hospitality industry due to the coronavirus pandemic has cost the state 40,000 jobs since the middle of March. The industry has lost $830 million in sales, which also means about $80 million in rooms and meals tax, said Mike Somers, CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. The losses will only accelerate during the summer, he said, which is the industries peak season.

Somers is hoping that restaurants can go to “phase 2,” which would allow indoor seating, as soon as June. He added that 40% of restaurants don’t have the space to have outside service.

‘Don’t go overboard’

Less than a week before the May 18 reopening, some restaurants were trying to figure out the rules.

Some weren’t sure that the allowance for standalone tents extended to attached canopies, while others, like 900 Degrees in Manchester, planed to use its existing covered deck, as well as set up 10 more tables in the parking lot.

“This is all new to us,” Priscilla Lane-Rondeau told NH Business Review, adding that her sales fell 80% when it was limited to takeout and curbside pickup. Still, with the help of a Paycheck Protection Program loan, she was able to keep on 14 staff members. Now she’ll be able to call in another 10, she said.

“I think they will come,” she said of customers. “There are people with high risk who will have to take care of themselves, but for many people, they are ready. They are ready.”

“Canopies should be OK as long as there are no walls,” said Rep. Ed Butler, D-Harts Location, a member of the task force and an inn owner himself. “As long as there are no walls and there is a free air-flowing environment.”

Bettencourt praised restaurants for trying so hard to obey the rules, but added, “I hope they don’t go overboard.”

The Friday, May 22, date for hotels to reopen, would allow for a “soft opening” before Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, said Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton.

Under the guidelines, guests who have symptoms or exposure to the virus will be asked not to check in, with the promise that any deposit will be refunded. Dining areas lodging facilities would will have to follow the restaurant guidance, but if social distancing isn’t possible, room service or grab-and-go could be offered as an alternative.

In addition, hotels with indoor room access couldn’t have more than 50% occupancy, but there would be no limits on hotels with outdoor access, or inns and with 10 or fewer rooms.

Also, rooms would be wiped down after use, common touch would be cleaned every two hours and hand sanitizers would be placed throughout the facility. As for pools and gyms, hotels would have to follow the guidelines of fitness centers.

Those guidelines cover a range of facilities, including fitness centers, yoga, martial and dance studios and tennis clubs. They would have to operate at half occupancy or “as social distancing allows.” There will be staffing “whenever possible” to enforce guidelines, and members that don’t comply will be warned to leave the facility. Members would have to bring their own mats, and it is recommended that they wear in and out their own clothes.

Changing rooms would remain open, but showers as well as steam rooms and saunas would be closed. Pools can remain open, as long as the 50% occupancy and social distancing rules are met.

While existing members from out of state are allowed, only new members must live in the Granite State.

To reopen, performing arts centers would be limited at first to streaming media, though artists must abide by social distancing rules.

To start, attractions allowed to reopen would include biking, canoe, kayak rentals, mini-golf and small group tours for such things as Lost River Gorge and Polar Caves, aerial activities, rides, race tracks and fishing charters, golf ranges and outdoor shooting ranges.

But that is such a wide range, said Bettencourt, that the governor might recommend that only some go forward, while other sectors would be held back.

Amusement parks would be considered separately, probably to be voted on next week when there also might be votes on summer camps, tattoo shops, indoor sporting arenas and charitable gaming. And there will be presentations next week for movie theaters and bowling alleys as well.

While there was little debate on individual guidelines, there was some back and forth on companies that had little contact with the public but were not considered essential. Lang argued that they should generally be allowed to reopen under universal guidelines, but to check with the Department of Business and Economic Affairs if they had questions.

Bettencourt suggested that draw up a list of different industries that wish to reopen, while BEA Commissioner Taylor Caswell suggested they consult the existing list of essential businesses to see if they are already included.

“I was hoping to be a little more universal,” said Lang. “Businesses are looking for a more universal statement rather than this industry and that industry.”

But “we want to get as many businesses as going as possible” as long as it doesn’t affect public health.

Categories: Government, News, Restaurants, Retail & Tourism