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Sununu Orders N.H. Residents to Stay At Home, Delays School Opening Until May

NHPR staff
Gov. Chris Sununu ordered all "non-essential" businesses to close starting Friday at midnight, though restaurants offering delivery and takeout will be exempted, he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu issued an expansive stay-at-home order Thursday, requiring all New Hampshire residents except for those employed by “essential” businesses to stay put until at least May 4 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With the order, which takes effect Friday at midnight, Sununu took a step he had resisted for more than a week. For days, the governor had said a stay-at-home order was unnecessary, as he said residents appeared to be taking appropriate steps on their own. But at a Concord press conference Thursday afternoon, Sununu said public health concerns and the apparently accelerating spread of COVID-19 across the state demanded stronger, immediate action.

“This order outlined today instructs Granite Staters to stay at home unless absolutely necessary,” Sununu said. “And while we appreciate that many in New Hampshire have been following our recommendations and doing a commendable job at practicing social distancing, today’s steps elevate our message to Granite Staters that they should stay home unless absolutely necessary.”

At the center of Sununu’s plan is the notion of “essential businesses,” which he said would remain open. On Thursday evening, the governor's office released a list of industries and businesses that would qualify as essential. The list includes: 

  • law enforcement, public safety, and first responders;
  • grocery stores, farm stands, and florists;
  • restaurants offering delivery and take-out only, liquor stores;
  • food manufacturers and farm workers;
  • health care providers;
  • energy, water and transportation industries;
  • communication industry and media workers;
  • certain manufacturing and financial services.

Along with the stay-at-home and essential business directive, Sununu announced several additional executive actions to deal with COVID-19 on Thursday, including a directive to close all Seacoast beaches before the weekend. Sununu also announced that the state is developing a plan for emergency childcare for employees of businesses deemed essential, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, though he offered few details on that. Sununu also extended the closure of all public schools in the state until at least May 4. Sununu initially closed all schools two weeks ago.
Sununu’s latest orders came one day after New Hampshire saw the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

According to the latest data from state health officials, 158 cases have been confirmed in the state, with 21 new positive test results on Thursday. Recent increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases reflect, in part, additional testing capacity in the state, as private companies such as LabCorp and Quest have started supplementing the screening done by the state's public health lab. Thus far, 25 people diagnosed with COVID-19 have required hospitalization, including three of the new cases announced Thursday. To date, one death has been attributed to COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

Sununu said his stay-at-home order is not a step he takes lightly, but recent health trends – in New Hampshire and the rest of the region – require it.

“We see what’s happening in New York City, just a couple hundred miles away,” Sununu said. “We see what’s happening in Boston, and we know that at some point we’re going to hit those surges. This could last a long time; it really could.”

During the stay-at-home order, Sununu said people should still feel free to go outside and exercise. But he said they shouldn't travel unnecessarily, gather in large groups or get together with friends, or have play dates for kids.

The formal order, issued late Thursday, explicity gives state and local police, as well as state health officials "the authority to enforce this order." But speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Sununu said the order won't force people to remain inside or empower police to confront those who leave their homes, and he does not expect law enforcement to “harass” residents who venture outside, but that he expected people to make smart decisions on their own.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Dan is NHPR's news director.
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