Gov. Chris Sununu says a planned tent revival in New Ipswich for this week will have to follow his new mandate, which requires gatherings of more than 100 people to wear masks.
The group organizing the tent revival is called The Last Reformation, and is led by a controversial Danish evangelist, Torben Søndergaard.
In late July, the group made headlines in Illinois, where it held a series of revival events with hundreds of people who did not wear face coverings or follow social distancing orders.
New Ipswich town administrators are advising area residents and businesses to take extra precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, while the tent revival takes place in town starting on Aug. 14
“We know a spike could occur at any time. We know that large events that typically gather over 100 individuals typically have folks gathering from out of state and can be super-spreader events,” said Gov. Sununu at a press conference Tuesday.
“Any event of this scope, at this point in our time would raise concerns, especially when you have the organizers say they don’t feel they need to practice COVID-19 protocols to protect everybody. I think that’s certainly getting under people’s skin,” said town administrator Scott Butcher.
The group has told New Ipswich administrators that they will not wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines. They are expecting about 200 to 500 attendees over the course of their event, which runs until Aug. 23, and will be based at the property of Rep. Paul Somero.
The group also plans on doing outreach in New Ipswich and surrounding towns.
Butcher says the town and the Attorney General’s office have let organizers know about state guidelines, emergency and executive orders around COVID-19.
“I also emphasized to them as guests in our state we would appreciate it if they would respect state of New Hampshire regulations and laws, and follow the governor’s orders,” Scott said.
Matt Peterson is an artist who lives in New Ipswich. He says he and his family plan on going into town as little as possible while the revival is taking place.
“We’re just going to try to avoid going to any of the stores in New Ipswich, and neighboring towns. Really, just practice social distancing, always wear a mask and stay low, while this is happening, because there’s not a lot we can do at this point.”
Some members of The Last Reformation have already arrived in New Hampshire, according to Søndergaard’s most recent Facebook post.
In his press conference Tuesday, Sununu said that “we will not hesitate to enforce penalties or fines to event organizers who willfully or dangerously disobey the rules we’ve put forth.”
Scott, the town administrator, says he and the New Ipswich select board will discuss the new mask mandate at a meeting Tuesday night. He says he feels that with the new mandate, the public will expect active enforcement, but he’s worried about how this might strain his small town’s police resources.
“For us, we’re so close to this event starting now that trying to react and be prepared is going to be a little bit more difficult,” he said.
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