NH Re-Opening Task Force begins taking up second phase guidelines

Panel votes for full occupancy for retailers, begins discussion on large gatherings

Yes We're Open 1200On the day when most of the first phase of reopening took effect, the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force started voting on guidance for second phase.

The task force on Monday voted to streamline universal guidance, outdoor recreation and opened up retail from half to full occupancy, as well as start discussing recommendations for large festivals and sporting events, including NASCAR races.

Buoyed by a decline in the number of new Covid-19 cases – 21 were reported on Sunday – DJ Bettencourt, Gov. Chris Sununu’s point man on his handpicked reopening task force, predicted that state public health officials might start going over the recommendations in a few weeks, though he said he had not discussed the matter with the governor.

The state started reopening under phase one of “Stay at Home 2.0” at the beginning of May, allowing businesses to open with restrictions, including nonessential retail, restaurants and, last weekend, lodging facilities.

But on Monday, Sununu turned his order into an advisory, lifting the 10-person gathering limit, and allowing many other businesses to reopen, including bowling alleys, gyms and wedding venues. He also allowed restaurants to have indoor dining and said day camps and overnight camps could open June 22 and June 28, respectively. And movie theaters, performing arts centers and amusement parks could open on June 29. (The task force voted on guidance for the last three, but the governor hasn’t approved it yet.)

Monday’s vote for second-phase reopening guidance, was, as usual, approved unanimously and without much debate. The task force did agree to a few tweaks that would make them slightly looser. For instance, the universal guidance eliminated a requirement to limit group sizes to 10, in deference to the Sununu.

The task force also agreed to a suggestion by Bruce Berke, state director of National Federation of Independent Business, to loosen the requirement that “face coverings MUST be worn by all employees and must cover employees’ noses and mouths at all times within the facility, in an enclosed space (e.g. a vehicle), or when other people are present (e.g. serving customer, in a break room, in a meeting, in a joint workspace).”

“If I’m in the office by myself, if I’m in a break room by myself, I should not have to wear a face covering,” he said, urging language that would make that clearer.

The group voted on the guidelines with the understanding that new wording would have to be worked out.

The guidance still requires that employers must either take employees’ temperature daily with a non-touch device, or have employee use their own thermometer if they can authenticate it to the company. Employees and customers also can’t enter the facility if displaying Covid-19 symptoms, unless they are tested, or if they were exposed.

Retail guidance

The task force also agreed to add a clarification that front-line healthcare workers can say no to the exposure question (and wouldn’t have to quarantine if they came from out of state) since “they are being covered head to toe in PPE and are taking every precaution imaginable” when working with people who might be affected with the virus, Bettencourt said.

The guidelines also require social distancing “when possible” and still asks companies to encourage working remote working, also “whenever possible.”

The retail guidance, drawn up by Nancy Kyle, CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association, would lift the current 50% occupancy limit on stores. It would do away with the requirement to have separate entrances and exits, a difficult requirement for some stores to meet, explained Kyle in her presentation to the task force last week.

Kyle also recommended changing guidance – which had specified where to locate hand sanitizer dispensers – to just make it “readily available throughout the store.”

The guidance also kept the ban on reusable bags, but after learning that the state Division of Public Health Department considering allowing such bags if customers do the bagging themselves, Kyle said she could support that.

The task force also approved consolidated guidelines for outdoor recreation, including include campgrounds, drive-in theaters, tourist trains, attractions, state parks and beaches, though Phil Bryce, director of the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

There is guidance that cuts across all these endeavors, like asking people to wear face masks when in vehicles, but there are specific sections for each industry.

For instance, outdoor attractions would still be required to provide separate entrances and exits. Drive-ins would no longer be required to keep 10 feet of separation between cars, just “a sufficient distance from one another to allow social distancing.” Tourist trains would be limited to 50% of capacity, but since requiring six feet of separation would mean much less than that in each car.

‘Best practices document’

The task force did hold off on voting on guidance outlined by Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, for events with more than 250 people, based on new Centers for Disease Control guidelines that would change it more from a “postponement” to a “mitigation” strategy.

The guidance covers any community event or gathering, concert, theater production, festival, fair, conference, parade, wedding, rally or sporting event and protest rallies and recommends regular public service announcements and prominent signs. It asks that people wear masks and observe social distancing, to designate at least one person to be responsible to respond to Covid-19 concerns and advise people not to attend if they are sick.

A vote won’t be scheduled next week, but Bettencourt said, if approved, it should be considered “a best practices document,” since he didn’t want people thinking the task force was “reneging” on the governor’s decision to let the stay-at-home order expire.

“We down want to think of it as another hoop to jump through,” he said.

But Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, warned not to be too laid back about the recommendations.

“Some folks are under the impression that this might be a reason to relax preventative measures like masks and social distancing,” she said, adding that it’s important that people need “to be taken more seriously in order to work” to prevent another spike of Covid cases.

Bettencourt hastily agreed that while businesses “are excited with us going forward today,” it’s still important that “we don’t have spikes and outbreaks, something that none of us want.”

The group plans to start discussing phase two guidelines for hotels and restaurants next week.

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