CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu said if needed, he’ll maintain public restrictions in New Hampshire longer than President Trump, who said Tuesday he wants the country to be back “open for business” by Easter on April 12.
“Whatever messages that are coming out of Washington, we are going to make sure we take care of the needs of New Hampshire first,” Sununu said during a briefing Tuesday at the New Hampshire Fire Academy.
The leaders of all states need to monitor the course of the outbreak and make sure changes in their restrictions are not made too soon, the governor said; that could threaten a further uptick.
“What we aren’t going to do is overly accelerate or loosen regulations just for the sake of the economy and at the risk of public health,” Sununu said.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a stay-at-home order Tuesday. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did the same on Monday.
Sununu says he is not planning to issue a similar order in New Hampshire.
Seven new cases
Seven additional New Hampshire residents have tested positive for COVID-19, upping the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 108, health officials said Tuesday.
The new confirmed cases of COVID-19 are all adults — six men and one woman. Four live in Rockingham County, one in Hillsborough County (in communities outside of Nashua and Manchester), and one each in Strafford and Grafton counties.
One of the new patients is hospitalized.
Three of the new cases can’t be linked to known risk factors.
Alert for bus passengers
State health officials issued new guidance Tuesday regarding possible community exposure of the coronavirus, after determining a person with COVID-19 was on Concord Coach Lines buses on the following days and routes:
• March 11: 3:15 a.m. bus from Concord to Londonderry, South Station and Logan Airport.
• March 13: 5:40 p.m. bus from Logan Airport to South Station, Concord, Tilton, Plymouth, Lincoln and Littleton.
• March 14: 5 a.m. bus from Concord to Londonderry, Salem, South Station and Logan.
• March 16: 1:40 p.m. bus from Logan Airport to South Station and Concord.
Health officials said anyone who rode on one of those buses may have been exposed to COVID-19 “and should stay at home and monitor their health for fever or respiratory illness.”
The news release said any person who was on one of those buses and has developed symptoms should stay away from other people, and immediately contact their healthcare provider.
‘Huge surge’ expected
The governor on Tuesday said a dramatic increase in testing for COVID-19 in the next week will lead to a “huge surge” in positive cases.
“The surge could last three, four, five weeks, we don’t know, so until then we have to remain very vigilant and maintain our guard,” Sununu said.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette agreed this is not likely to be a short-term crisis.
“We expect that we are still in the escalation phase of the epidemic. We can expect to see higher rates in the next couple of weeks, probably peaking until April and perhaps into May as well,” Shibinette said.
Sununu said he remains convinced that his voluntary rather than mandatory call for non-essential businesses to close has been the right approach.
“Pretty much all of those non-essential businesses as defined in other states have voluntarily closed down here,” Sununu said.
“Many small businesses in New Hampshire had made those tough choices.”
But Sununu said he’s evaluating the pandemic on a daily basis and could decide to ramp up more restrictions.
“We very well may have to escalate steps as we go. We are not there today,” Sununu said.
FEMA response ‘discombobulated’
The governor praised the Trump administration and the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation for being helpful, but didn’t offer the same praise for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I have been pretty much up front with my frustration with FEMA,” Sununu said, referring to the state’s request to get its allotment of medical equipment from masks to ventilators from the federal stockpile.
“It’s been slow and has been a bit discombobulated … New Hampshire traditionally has not been in the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) business, but we are today.”
Sununu announced the state was creating two new web sites to mobilize health care professionals, all residents and business owners to provide support to battle this disease.
Former health care providers and support staff can sign up to help hospitals and clinics through nhresponds.org.
Shibinette said the state’s large number of retired doctors, nurses and other professionals are invited to return to work on a temporary basis. The state will be flexible when it comes to the licensing status of these volunteers, she said.
Sununu urged citizens and non-profits to sign onto VolunteerNH.org, which is the existing state organization that coordinates volunteer efforts.
The United Way of New Hampshire and the NH Charitable Fund have announced plans to work together to leverage more charitable donations. Sununu said 100 percent of this giving will be directed to support COVID-19 programs that need the most help.
As for business backing, Sununu said 100 manufacturers in the state have come forward and asked state officials how they could help.
The portal nheconomy.com/ppehelp will permit these companies to sign up and spell out how they could make and deliver more medical supplies for providers here.
Union Leader reporter Paul Feely contributed to this article.