NH positive test rate for COVID-19 remains low

Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said for the past few weeks the rate of positive cases for COVID-19 has remained well below the 5 percent rate, which signals the virus is under control. Over the last week, the positive rate has been down to “2 to 3 percent.”

CONCORD — New Hampshire likely would limit hours for restaurant dining or visits to bars rather than close those businesses in the event of a new surge in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Chris Sununu said.

At his briefing Tuesday, the governor faced a variety of questions about the prospect of rising cases, which have occurred in more than 35 states in recent weeks.

“We are very fortunate to be in the Northeast, but we shouldn’t take it for granted,” Sununu said. “We are going to have outbreaks. The key is how do we manage them?”

Governors in many states have blamed spikes in COVID-19 cases on crowded gatherings in bars and restaurants, especially late at night.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we pull back too far. Limiting hours might be the better way to go rather than just closing down again,” Sununu said. “A shutdown is really the action of last resort.”

Sununu has yet to act on the recommendation of his Economic Reopening Task Force to further restore indoor dining in restaurants.

Restaurant dining in the six southern counties with most of the COVID-19 cases has been limited to 50% capacity.

Industry leaders say because tables have to be 6 feet apart, they are actually operating at less than 50% capacity.

Two weeks ago, the panel urged Sununu to permit restaurant owners in Hillsborough, Rockingham, Merrimack, Strafford, Cheshire and Sullivan Counties to go to 100% capacity indoors.

Sununu said he has spoken with governors in neighboring states as well as states dealing with case surges to learn about their experiences.

“Governor (Doug) Ducey made some difficult decisions the other day,” Sununu said of Arizona’s Republican governor.

In response to surging cases and hospitalizations, Ducey announced a “one-month pause” in reopening his state, which led to closing bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks and tubing rentals until the end of July.

Arizona has had nearly 80,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,600 deaths.

COVID-19 test rate

For the past week, New Hampshire has averaged about 30 positive cases of COVID-19 a day, with a positive result for 2% to 3% of those tested.

“We are all feeling tired of this pandemic. I want to acknowledge that fact,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. “But what works are the protocols we have talked so much about, which are sound hand-washing practices, face coverings and maintaining social distancing.”

Sununu has opposed creating a mandate to wear masks while in public but has praised citizens for using them for the most part.

“I was in a Target over on the Seacoast on Sunday morning, and every single person I saw was wearing a mask. It was earlier in the morning, and maybe that made a difference,” Sununu said.

“But I have seen it myself that there are situations where many are not wearing masks. It can be hit-or-miss.”

Klandrigan @unionleader.com

Monday, November 23, 2020