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Gov. Chris Sununu's “Stay at Home 2.0,” the next phase of New Hampshire’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, extends the stay-at-home order through the end of May.
But it also includes a broad reopening of certain industries in the coming weeks. Here’s a tour.
Is everything going to reopen at once? No. The governor’s reopening plan takes a phased approach, in four parts.
The first part, affecting manufacturing, state parks, and campgrounds, takes effect immediately. Those facilities never shut down; the new order simply contains updated guidance.
The second phase started on May 4 when hospitals could begin to offer certain procedures that had been shut down during the initial lockdown. Also starting on May 4 were a string of “universal guidelines” that included new procedures for employers and employees at essential workplaces.
The third phase will begin on May 11. This is the most wide-ranging change with retail stores allowed to open at 50% store capacity, barbershops and hair salons to reopen with restrictions, drive-in theaters to reopen, and golf courses to reopen if they abide by a list of unique requirements.
And finally, the fourth phase, on May 18, adds restaurants to the mix.
Let’s explore each phase.
Phase 1: May 1
State parks are still open with the exception of beaches, which will remain closed. They will be staffed by employees with proper protection, including cloth face coverings.
Under new guidance, parks must have hand washing stations or hand sanitizer readily available. They must also regularly clean and disinfect surfaces like restrooms, close playgrounds, and boat rentals, and shut off water fountains.
Campgrounds are also open as per their usual May 1 schedule. But they are only open to NH residents or out-of-state residents that are members. Campsites must be limited to between six and eight occupants, and only 50% of campsites can be offered at one time.
The new guidance for manufacturers encourages cloth face coverings, staggered shifts and mealtimes, and limited interactions with outside visitors.
Phase 2: May 4
Hospitals may relax restrictions on non-emergency procedures, a move made in early March to open up space for a potential surge in virus treatment. Canceled procedures have decimated revenue for hospitals. Now, some procedures can be allowed but only under tight conditions.
There must be adequate testing supplies and capacity as well as personal protective equipment. The hospitals must prioritize time-sensitive procedures and patients with urgent needs – particularly ones that have been already canceled or put off. And they must factor hospital-specific capacity and how intense the virus is in the community.
May 4 also brings new guidance for employees going to work: Employers are required to implement a daily screening procedure for all employees entering the workplace, including questions around symptoms. Employees must stay home when feeling ill, wear a cloth face covering, and use hand sanitizer frequently.
Phase 3: May 11
When retail stores open, they can only operate at 50% capacity and must ensure six feet of spacing for those waiting in line to get in. They must request patrons wear face masks and institute one-way aisles in the store. They must continue curbside pickup where feasible. They must establish separate entries and exits and wipe down checkout aisles between each customer.
Barbershops and hair salons may also open that day. They’re limited to offering haircuts and basic hair coloring, and they may not blow dry hair. All customers must wear face masks, and waiting rooms are banned. Customers should instead wait in cars and be called in.
Golf courses, like campgrounds, are limited to NH residents or out-of-state members. Tee times must be staggered 12 minutes apart, with groups no bigger than four. Practice areas for putting and driving must remain closed.
Drive-in movie theaters may open, with a minimum 10-foot distance for cars, and food limited to pick up.
Phase 4: May 18
Perhaps the biggest wild card of the COVID-19 lockdown has been restaurants, one of the largest potential vectors for viral spread and also one of the most acutely felt absences from daily life.
Now, restaurants have a shot at re-opening. On May 18, restaurants will be allowed to open outdoor dining – limited to parking spaces, patios, sidewalks, and lawns. Tables would be limited to six diners per table, with each table six feet apart. Everyone will need to call ahead for reservations to prevent waiting areas. Bar areas must stay closed, but bars themselves can serve outside. Patrons will be asked to bring face coverings.
Why is this happening now?
New Hampshire’s COVID-19 daily case count is still at a high, and it’s plateaued there. But Sununu has pointed to a drop in increase levels, a dip in hospitalization rates, a slowing of the “doubling time” of the virus, and a drop in the percentage of positive cases compared to the overall testing.
Are businesses forced to reopen?
No. Any reopening is voluntary. Employees who have been laid off and are collecting unemployment benefits do not have to return to work if their business reopens – provided they are vulnerable to the disease, according to Sununu.
Could any of these opening dates be revised?
Yes. The governor said the state would continue to monitor case levels in NH and Massachusetts as the reopening unfolds.
Pictured: Dan Bowley of Danville brought his children to the #ReOpenNH Rally at City Plaza in front of the State House on Saturday, May 2, 2020. The crowd was much larger than the first rally last month. Photo by GEOFF FORESTER