CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu poured over detailed guidelines for reopening economic sectors from restaurants, retail stores and state parks to golf courses, campgrounds and hair salons while he put the finishing touches on his "flex open" plan that he will present to New Hampshire Friday.
The two-term Republican is expected with these changes to extend the stay-at-home order that's set to expire May 4.
The Governor’s Reopening Task Force late Thursday completed more than 12 hours of drafting, discussing and adopting proposals for these specific industries.
They also adopted universal guidelines for all New Hampshire employers and employees to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For all businesses, these procedures direct the owners of firms to let employees continue to work from home as much as practical, to screen each employee before they enter the workplace and for employees to wear a cloth face covering “while at work and in public.”
Sununu was reviewing these findings in consultation with Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan and staff with the Division of Public Health Services and its Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.
“In the end it will be up to public health and the governor to decide how to treat these documents,” said D.J. Bettencourt, Sununu’s policy director who has managed the work of the task force.
For example, the task force adopted plans to reopen beaches on the Seacoast and inland at state parks first only for “transitory” use only.
This would mean you could walk, jog or swim in the water but not lounge on the beach.
Bettencourt said Sununu will not on Friday set a date for reopening beaches.
“There will be no immediate announcement this week with respect to beaches,” Bettencourt told the task force. “This is going to be the subject of long-term discussion.”
The task force will be meeting in the coming weeks to monitor how these new practices are implemented and recommend changes if appropriate, he said.
“Inevitably whatever we do, we will not make 100 percent of the folks in our state happy but what we are trying to do is strike the right balance so our citizens are healthy and safe and we are getting our economy moving again,” Bettencourt said.
And he assured citizens who offered public comments that the governor will give business owners time for them to get comfortable with these guidelines.
“Nothing is going to happen instantaneously. There will be time to prepare,” Bettencourt said.
Guidelines are recommendations, not mandates
Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell stressed all these guidelines were recommendations.
Business owners could choose to remain closed or put in additional restrictions before they do reopen their doors, he said.
“Opening your business under these rules…remains optional,” Caswell said.
“We are not requiring any business to open that does not feel they have the capacity or economic wherewithal. The opening of the business remains optional to the owner of the business.”
State Rep. Jeff Salloway, D-Lee, said the task force’s next job needs to create standards to quickly readopt if there’s another surge of the virus in the future.
“We are dealing with wave one of this outbreak,” Salloway said.
“There is likely to be a wave two and we face the possibility next fall of a wave three. It is imperative we put in place guidelines that we can readopt expeditiously as we are hit with a second wave or a third wave.”
Hair stylists dominate public comment
During two hours of public comment Thursday, licensed cosmetologists dominated the discussion with most urging Sununu to go beyond the recommended reopening of salons that restricts their business to only haircuts and routine dying of hair roots.
Janelle Burris runs Janelle's Modern Beauty Salon in Concord and she said 75 percent of her business were custom hair and other treatments such as waxing.
“I feel like those restrictions are only going to benefit big corporate places like Supercuts. It makes me afraid small businesses like myself won’t be able to open back up,” Burris said.
But Jenny, who runs a salon out of the bottom floor of her home, said she is worried about opening now.
“I don’t feel salons have to be part of phase one. I have tried to get sanitation materials and not had much success,” Jenny said. “I am eager to get back to work but I am concerned that we not go back too fast.”
The task force is recommending the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery use some of its $1.25 billion federal grant to include small awards to get personal protection equipment (PPE) for hairdressers.
“With an 80 percent loss in revenue, micro-grants would allow these companies to get money for cleaning and PPE supplies,” said State Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton.
Greg Stone urged Sununu to reopening as much of the economy and balance public health with business health.
“You seem to say nothing is as important as saving lives,” Stone said, addressing the governor with his remarks. “I believe saving our residents and businesses’ economic lives are paramount. I believe they are entwined. If our economy is not open very soon, we will face economic and employment challenges the likes of which we have not seen.”
Here’s some of the task force’s recommendations:
Restaurants and Hotels
The guidance calls for restaurants to expand from curbside and delivery in four steps.
The first phase would allow restaurants to allow sit-down dining outside in existing patios, sidewalks or parking spaces close to the business where this can be done safely. This would allow tables with up to six patrons.
The second phase would allow inside dining of groups up to 10 people but with tables set at least six feet apart.
Customers in bars would be spaced at least six feet apart. Catering would be open for parties up to 50 with tables of 10.
At the time of the second phase, hotels could open to the public and catering allowed with tables with up to 10 people, each spaced six feet apart. Pools and exercise gyms in hotels would be closed and there would be no congregating allowed in the lobby.
The third phase would permit restaurant dining of larger groups.
It would maintain the hygiene restrictions from earlier phases to include wearing masks and temperature testing for staff along with enhanced cleaning of surfaces, menus, chairs and all other hard surfaces. Catering would be expanded for parties up to 100.
During the third phase, hotels would allow groups of up to 10 in the lobby with pools and hotel gyms open with enhanced cleaning.
The fourth phase would bring hotel and restaurant practices near to normal with enhanced cleaning and training for staff still in place.
State Parks and Beaches
The Flume in Franconia Notch would be fully open first for online advance ticketing only with groups of up to six at one time.
They would limit food and beverage sales to grab and go with no wait service and only outdoor seating.
Parks Director Phil Bryce said initially the plan calls for inland beaches at state parks only for campers and not opened up to day users of the beach until at a later point.
The capacity for each beach would be determined and enforced to ensure social distancing, he said.
State park officials are studying a second, future option at ocean beaches to allow “restricted sitting” on the sand but Bryce said it’s a work in progress.
“We are looking at specific locations or how to figure out reserve spots on the beach so umbrellas aren’t touching each other. There is a lot of details to see whether this is possible,” Bryce said.
“The Seacoast is so complex and it is such an at risk environment that we want to be careful to make sure phase one goes well before moving on.”
This guidance calls for rest rooms in state parks to be family-style, single use so only one person at a time could use them.
Private campgrounds could open up rest rooms to wider use if social distancing were possible.
No visitors to the campers would be allowed.
Task force members convinced Bryce to permit shower and laundry services at campgrounds in this initial opening as long as sanitation meets state and federal regulations.
Tents could be used up to 50 percent capacity of the campground and Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, said he supported it.
“I think the issue of having a phase in which we open to a lesser extent is a reassurance for our general population that we are taking steps in the right direction but not open up quickly to everything,” Butler said.
Initially, Bryce had proposed RV sites have one space open between them but the task force changed it to allow all RV spots to be occupied as long as campers practice social distancing.
Sen. Robert Guida, R-Warren, lobbied for getting rid of having to space RV’s.
“I can be in an RV three feet away from another and I am still six feet away from everybody with two walls in between. The virus doesn't go through walls,” Guida said.
“This type of broad brush rule I find counterproductive to getting businesses and reopened and profitable again.”
During the first phase, tee times would be 12 minutes apart to maintain social distancing.
Golfers would bring their own equipment because the clubhouse and locker room would be closed except for golfers to use the restroom.
A beer cart could make sales along the course as long as the staffer was wearing PPE.
The flag at each hole would be altered so hitting the stick would complete scoring so the golfer didn’t have to reach into the cup to remove the ball.
Phase two would lead to opening of the pro shop.
A “halfway house” could open at the midpoint of the course to allow limited food and drink to be picked up but no seating or service.
The flags would be placed into the hole as normal in this phase.
Tee times would be reduced to 10 minutes apart.
Golf instruction and some youth golf activity could open with social distancing.
The third phase would remove many of the restrictions but in all phases, players would remain in their cars until 15 minutes before teeing off.
The clubhouse could open for groups of not more than 10 and tee times would be eight minutes apart.
Curbside and delivery of products would stay as an option and would be encouraged for “vulnerable populations” who are reluctant to enter a store to shop.
Owners would be encouraged to set aside special hours for at-risk people to shop on their own.
The reopening will have one-way aisles “if possible,” and there would be at least six feet between customers at the checkout.
Cashiers must wear masks and plastic dividers installed between cashier and the public if that’s feasible to install.
All clothing tried on by customers would be put in quarantine for 48 hours before it was returned to the storeroom floor for sale.
There is only one phase here with allowing haircuts and simple hair dye work and no other procedures such as waxing, nail work or tanning.
“It is better we start small and let’s see how it works. We felt like this was a good place to start,” said State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, who led the group crafting this guidance.
Seating would be limited in the salon the maintain social distancing and both the hairstylist and the customer must wear a face covering.
Public Health Division Deputy Director Patricia Tilley said the agency may recommend Sununu require staff wear a “procedural mask” which is more protective than a face covering but less than an N-95 mask used in the health care field.