CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday gave New Hampshire’s tourism industry reason to celebrate Independence Day, lifting a 14-day quarantine mandate for visitors from all New England states on the eve of the holiday weekend.
The move puts out the welcome mat for those coming to the state’s beaches, lakes and amusement parks from Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Sununu said he initially considered only lifting the quarantine for Maine and Vermont residents given that, a little over a month ago, Massachusetts was the national epicenter for COVID-19.
But for more than a week, Sununu said the number of positive cases in Massachusetts has been on par proportionally with New Hampshire.
“We felt pretty confident that this was the right way to go,” Sununu said during a televised briefing.
The decision came as state health officials reported 21 new cases of the virus in New Hampshire, two new hospitalizations and two more deaths of seniors in New Hampshire nursing homes.
This brings the state’s total death toll to 375.
For more than three weeks, the state has had a positive test rate of 2% to 3%, roughly half the 5% benchmark federal health officials use to determine whether a state has the virus under control.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said in the coming weeks the state will get out of the COVID-19 testing business and turn it over to the 26 acute-care hospitals in the state that wish to do it.
The upper Northeast is widely viewed as the cleanest region in the country for COVID-19.
Sununu said he didn’t believe that profile would lead to a flood of tourists from any of the 35 states where positive cases have spiked in the past two weeks.
“The fact is that 80 to 85% of our tourist visitors come from the other New England states. We do get some from New York, but their numbers are better as well,” Sununu said.
“Could we have someone from Florida or Texas come and visit? Sure, but those numbers are relatively minimal.”
Leaders in the hotel and tourist attraction industry had been openly pushing for the lifting of this quarantine, maintaining that it would be difficult for them to operate at 50% capacity with only in-state visitors.
New Hampshire does not actively enforce the quarantine mandate, relying on someone renting a room in a hotel for example to “attest” to having first spent two weeks in quarantine.
But taking this step permits these attractions and resorts to aggressively advertise in those New England media markets for customers.
Not coincidentally, Sununu’s announcement comes as the state’s own travel and tourism office begins its own marketing and ad campaign, which was put on hold for three months for COVID-19.
This decision affects a number of other summer activities.
Many day camp operators said they would be unable to operate profitably this year because a large slice of their business was coming from out of state.
Likewise, the leaders of amateur and semi-pro sports leagues said their seasons would be cut short or not proceed at all if they couldn’t bring in teams from neighboring states.
State health officials point out New Hampshire residents still have to go into voluntary quarantine for two weeks if they return here after traveling outside New England.
“This is why we continue to emphasize that you really not travel outside the region unless it is absolutely necessary,” Sununu said.
“The numbers we are seeing outside the region are just too alarming.”