Woman carrying grocery bag

Prior to Monday, New Hampshire and Illinois were the only states yet to lift reusable shopping bag bans imposed because of the pandemic.

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu signed an emergency order Monday rescinding the state’s ban on reusable shopping bags.

The ban was put in place earlier this year as part of a series of actions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Officials cited concerns that shoppers might bring contaminated bags to the grocery store, where workers could become infected and spread the virus further.

“We looked at the latest data, consulted with officials at public health and ask individuals to be courteous and respectful to retail/grocery workers by cleaning your reusable bags,” Sununu said in a tweet announcing he would rescind the ban, effective immediately.

The change comes as cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire remain relatively low.

State health officials reported no new deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Monday, and just seven new cases. There have now been 409 COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire since the pandemic began, and a total of 6,441 confirmed cases.

Last week environmental advocates asked the governor to end the ban on reusable cloth bags in grocery stores, while industry leaders insisted they remain a threat to customers’ and employees’ health.

Prior to Monday, New Hampshire and Illinois were the only states yet to lift bans imposed because of the pandemic.

On July 10, Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker rescinded his state’s ban on the bags, provided they are first cleaned and disinfected.

Melissa Gates, Northeast regional director with the Surfrider Foundation, told the governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force last week research shows the risk of people getting COVID-19 from touching surfaces is very low.

John Dumais, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association (NHGA), said last week store managers and employees remain concerned about reintroducing reusable bags.

“We have never embraced the use of reusable bags in the grocery store because they aren’t always sanitary,” Dumais said. “They are loaded with bacteria that come into a clean environment in the grocery store. They may contaminate the conveyor belt and affect the bagger in the store who can then transfer that contamination to the next person in line.”

The NHGA and a spokesman for Market Basket did not respond to requests for comment on the ban being rescinded. A spokesman for Hannaford supermarkets said the company was just learning about the governor’s action, and wasn’t prepared to respond.

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Monday, August 03, 2020