Sununu Declares State of Emergency Over Coronavirus, But Says It's 'Time For Calm'

Mar 13, 2020

Gov. Chris Sununu declares a state of emergency in New Hampshire over the coronavirus.
Credit Josh Rogers/NHPR

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu declared a state of emergency Friday in the state’s effort to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. As he did, Sununu argued that the current threat to public safety here is minor and the emergency declaration was merely a precautionary step.

Still, earlier in the day, state health officials sought authority to spend up to $15 million to pay for a broad range of expenses to bulk up New Hampshire’s response to the COVID-19 threat.

“The risk to New Hampshire remains very low,” Sununu said, flanked by public health and safety officials at the State House Friday afternoon. “We just want to make sure we are nimble and we can act quickly as the situation may evolve rapidly. We’ve seen that happen in other states, and we want to be prepared.”

The 21-day declaration gives Sununu the power to reassign state workers as needed and temporarily bans visitors at New Hampshire nursing homes and residential care facilities for the elderly. The order also bars out-of-state travel for student groups and non-essential out-of-state travel for public employees. Still, Sununu said, most rhythms of Granite State life should carry on as usual.

“This is a time for calm,” Sununu said, “and if folks want to go to town meeting they are absolutely safe to do so.”

Several towns moved Friday to postpone town and school meetings over COVID-19.

But even as Sununu emphasized that New Hampshire is at low risk now, his administration is readying to spend $15 million on coronavirus-related preparations, including $5 million in new federal funds lawmakers approved Friday.

The money would go to hire 10 new nursing, laboratory and administrative positions, and buy equipment and protective gear for state employees. It would also cover the cost of thermometers, food and hotel stays for people who’ve been put under quarantine.

In a letter to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee Sununu said the virus could disrupt basic government functions.

“While it is our intention to continue funding core critical programs and services, we must be prepared to make adjustments as the full extent of the economic disruption of COVID-19 are understood,” Sununu wrote.

As of Friday evening, seven people in New Hampshire have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Close to 300 people are being monitored by the state.