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New Hampshire policy responses to coronavirus

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On March 13, 2020 New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu declared a state of emergency due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the cause of a worldwide outbreak of respiratory illness.

Click here to visit the New Hampshire government website on COVID-19.

Here is a summary of all the policies Gov. Sununu and his departments have implemented during the state of emergency.

Mask mandate

During most of the state of emergency, Gov. Sununu refrained from requiring masks in public.  On August 11 Gov. Sununu announced New Hampshire will require anyone at a scheduled gathering of 100 or more people to wear a mask.

Stay-at-home order

On March 26 Gov. Sununu announced a "stay-at-home" order, closing non-essential businesses.  While the stay-at-home order expired June 15, Gov. Sununu is still restricting various public gatherings.

Here is a summary of reopenings so far:

  • Starting May 4, hospitals could offer more procedures and services.
  • Starting May 11, golf locations could open to New Hampshire residents and private members.  On June 5 Gov. Sununu opened golf to non-residents, as well.
  • Starting May 11, retail locations could open to a limited number of customers at a time.  Customers and employees must wear facemasks and follow other safety procedures.
  • Starting May 11, barbershops and hair salons could open for basic hair services.  Once again customers and employees must wear facemasks and follow other safety procedures.
  • Starting May 18, restaurants could open limited outdoor dining areas.  Starting June 15 restaurants could open for indoor dining with tables six feet apart. 
  • Starting May 22, non-contact youth sports could practice outdoors in groups of ten or less.  Players must use their own equipment.  Starting June 15 outdoor, non-contact amateur and youth sports could expand to groups of up to 50.
  • Starting May 29, behind-the-wheel driver's education could take place with instructors.
  • Starting May 29, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship could open for in-person services at 40% capacity.  On June 19 Gov. Sununu bumped up that capacity to 50%.
  • Starting June 1, fitness centers could offer small group classes with adequate social distancing. 
  • Starting June 1, personal care services such as acupuncturists and nail salons could open to a limited number of customers.  There are other safety guidelines.
  • Starting June 1, seacoast beaches could open for transient use, such as swimming, surfing, and running.  State parking will be limited to 50%.  On June 5 Gov. Sununu announced that the state would also allow sunbathing on beaches.  There have been some challenges managing crowds at Hampton beach; on June 29 Gov. Sununu announced a pay increase of $3 per hour for state park staff working in Hampton.
  • Starting June 5, hotels and short-term rentals could resume service.  According to the governor, "If you are coming from out-of-state to stay at a NH hotel or rental location, you must self-attest to having stayed in your home, only leaving for essential purposes, for the previous 14 days."  An earlier executive order restricted hotels, motels, AirBnBs, and other short-term rentals to housing essential workers and "vulnerable populations," such as homeless individuals.  The state never closed campgrounds, although they were limited to members and New Hampshire residents.
  • Starting June 15, wedding venues, funeral homes, libraries, charitable gaming locations, bowling alleys, gyms, museums, race tracks and other outdoor attractions could open with restrictions (usually including 50% capacity limits).
  • Starting June 22, day camps could resume operations within safety guidelines.  Overnight camps could start June 28.
  • Starting June 29, amusement parks, performing arts centers, and indoor movie theaters could open with capacity restrictions.

Click here to see all of the "Stay at Home 2.0" guidelines.

Stepped-up enforcement

On August 13 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order clarifying the penalties for violating emergency rules and regulations related to the coronavirus.  The fines are generally $1,000 for each violation or each day a violation continues.

Remote learning and the 2020/21 school year

On July 14 Gov. Sununu announced the state's guidelines for K-12 schools in the fall of 2020.  Desks should be at least three feet apart, students should have assigned seating, and districts should be prepared to pivot to remote learning.  The guidelines are mostly recommendations rather than mandates.  For example, local schools will have the power to decide whether to require face coverings.  Click here to read the full guidelines.

On August 11 Gov. Sununu detailed how the state will handle a cluster or outbreak of COVID-19 cases in a school.  The state will notify school officials of any positive case, as well as any close contacts of that case.  If there is an outbreak, the state recommends the school transition to remote learning for 14 days.  

Gov. Sununu ordered all schools in New Hampshire to transition to remote learning in mid-March.  That order continued through the end of the school year.

There were a few executive orders related to remote learning. An order on March 18 gave schools more flexibility to use software that may not have been fully vetted for privacy purposes.

On March 30 the governor announced New Hampshire would not administer statewide standardized tests for the 2019-2020 school year.  

An April 28 executive order gave school districts more flexibility to spend outside their budget.  That same order gave the Department of Education greater flexibility to waive requirements for schools.

On May 26 Gov. Sununu ordered every school district to hold Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team meetings to consider Extended-School Year services for each student with an IEP.

Mortgage and rent assistance

On March 16 Gov. Sununu prohibited landlords from starting the eviction process during the state of emergency. The governor also prohibited foreclosures from moving forward.  However, a later executive order made clear that tenants are still responsible for paying missed rent.

Gov. Sununu ended the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures July 1. 

In June he announced that $35 million of CARES Act funds will go to housing assistance.  This includes grants for households that suffered a limited short-term loss of household income or increased expenses during the coronavirus shutdowns.  Click here to access housing assistance.

Another executive order extends the minimum notice period for eviction from 7 to 30 days.

No utility shut-offs

On March 16 the governor forbade providers of electricity, gas and other fuel, water, telephone, cable, VOIP, and internet from disconnecting customers during the state of emergency.  That order expired July 15.  Utilities must give customers the opportunity to pay back missed bills over six months.

Expanded unemployment benefits

Individuals who are unable to work or who have reduced hours due to the coronavirus outbreak can apply for unemployment benefits, thanks to a March 16 order from Gov. Sununu. That includes employees who have to stay home to take care of children during remote learning.  Learn more from the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.

On March 30 Gov. Sununu announced a further expansion of unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the pandemic.  That expansion includes:

  • An increase in minimum benefits from $32 to $168 per week
  • An additional $600 per week, from federal funding
  • An extension of benefits from 13 weeks (3 months) to 39 weeks (9 months)

The $600 per week, from federal funding, ended in July.  However, on August 18 Gov. Sununu announced that the state would participate in a new federal program to boost benefits by $300 per week, with a $100 match from the state.  That program ran out in September.

Small business and nonprofit loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration approved New Hampshire’s application to provide emergency business loans during the COVID-19 outbreak. The loans offer up to $2 million for small businesses and may be used to cover payroll and other bills. 

On April 3 Gov. Sununu announced that the state was moving a large portion of cash reserves to small New Hampshire banks, with the goal of increasing loans to small businesses across the state.

On April 10 the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority and New Hampshire Business Finance Authority announced the New Hampshire Nonprofit Response Fund.  Using donations from the business community, the fund will provide nonprofits up to $100,000 in loans and grants, with a focus on service providers.  On May 15 Gov. Sununu announced an additional $60 million for nonprofits from the federal CARES Act money.

The same day Gov. Sununu announced a $400 million grant fund for small businesses impacted by COVID-19.  Click here to learn more.

On June 18 Gov. Sununu announced the Self Employed Livelihood Fund for self-employed individuals, which allows self-employed individuals to access some of the small business grants. Click here to learn more.

Lastly Gov. Sununu created the New Hampshire General Assistance & Preservation (GAP) Fund for businesses and nonprofits that did not qualify for previous grants.  Click here to learn more.

Restaurants

On March 16 Gov. Sununu ordered all restaurants and bars to offer takeout or delivery only. In a follow-up order on March 18, Gov. Sununu allowed restaurants to offer beer and wine with takeout and delivery. 

Starting May 18 restaurants could start offering outdoor seating; starting June 15 restaurants could offer some indoor dining.  On August 21, Gov. Sununu announced he was lifting indoor capacity restrictions for restaurants in all ten counties.

On August 11 Gov. Sununu announced the state would step up enforcement of public health guidelines in restaurants.  In particular he noted that people will not be allowed to gather in bars, which has contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in other states.

Starting October 1, restaurants can seat people indoors less than 6-feet apart so long as there are physical barriers between parties.

Grocery stores

On April 3 Gov. Sununu announced the New Hampshire Grocers Association was launching an emergency operations center to support grocery stores during the pandemic.  The state worked with the association to develop guidelines to keep grocery store employees and customers safe.  Those guidelines include marking six foot spacing in checkout lines, installing plexiglass shields at cash registers, and more.

A March 21 order required grocery stores to use disposable shopping bags.  Reusable shopping bags are more likely to carry disease. Gov. Sununu lifted that order on July 27.

State liquor stores are staying open, and on March 31 the governor announced a 10% pay increase for people working in liquor stores.

Other business regulations

On March 23 Gov. Sununu issued an order to temporarily allow online notarization.

The same day he issued an order to allow pharmacies to make and sell hand sanitizer, and to allow pharmacists to do more work remotely.  Another order allows out-of-state pharmacies to act as mail-order pharmacies in New Hampshire.  An April 24 order forbids "pharmacy desk audits, field audits or other routine audits that may consume considerable pharmacist or pharmacy staff resources under short deadlines."

On March 30 Gov. Sununu announced the state was pushing the business tax deadline for most businesses to June 15, 2020.

An April 1 executive order allows construction to begin if local building officials are unable to meet and approve permit applications.  A contractor still has to follow certain procedures, laid out in the executive order. 

On April 9 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order that waives or extends deadlines and certification in several different areas, from asbestos licenses to tank operator certifications.  Click here to see the full list from the governor.

On May 4 Sununu announced a program for businesses to get free masks from the state's stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE).  Click here to access state help for businesses, including PPE.

Flexible licensing

As part of his emergency declaration on March 13, Gov. Sununu loosened various licensing requirements. For example, out-of-state emergency personnel responding to COVID-19 can operate in New Hampshire without being licensed by the Granite State. The Department of Health and Human Services can also waive some requirements for day care facilities, for example to allow daycare at the site of critical employers.

On March 27 Gov. Sununu issued an order that allows criminal background checks to take place without fingerprinting.

On April 1 Gov. Sununu addressed a different sort of license—marriage licenses.  Any marriage license that would expire during the state of emergency is now extended 60 days from the end of the state of emergency.

Stipends for front-line workers

On April 14 Gov. Sununu announced a $300 per week special benefit for front-line workers at Medicaid-funded longterm care facilities and in-home care environments.  He said this benefit is intended to help facilities retain employees during the emergency.  In the short-term, the benefit will be paid from the general fund of all tax dollars, though Gov. Sununu expects federal funds to cover the expenditure.

On May 4 Gov. Sununu announced a similar $150 to $300 per week stipend for firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and corrections officers.

Testing for COVID-19

On April 14 Gov. Sununu announced a program for all employees at long-term care facilities in Rockingham and Hillsborough county to get tested for coronavirus through ConvientMD.

On May 6 Gov. Sununu announced that anyone can get tested for coronavirus in New Hampshire, without a doctor's referral.  There is a portal on the state government's COVID-19 website to register for a test.  Click here to visit the website.

On May 8 Gov. Sununu also announced that anyone can get tested for coronavirus antibodies by making an appointment with ClearChoiceMD.

Expanding health care

On March 19 the governor announced a $50 million fund to give grants or loans “to provide emergency relief to all aspects of the New Hampshire healthcare system.” On May 15 Gov. Sununu announced an additional $50 for the fund, all from federal CARES Act money.

On April 3 Gov. Sununu announced the state had built 14 clinical surge flex facilities. In late May the state closed all but four of those facilities, in Manchester, Plymouth, Durham, and Littleton.

An April 30 executive order allows a surrogate to consent to experimental treatment if a patient is severely ill with COVID-19 and unable to consent.

On May 28 Sununu announced "the Governor’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team to develop a recommended strategy and plan to address the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Mandated insurance coverage

On March 10 the New Hampshire Insurance Department ordered all New Hampshire insurers to cover costs associated with COVID-19 tests, without cost sharing. The order also requires health insurers to make other accommodations for the coronavirus, such as allowing customers to refill prescriptions early.  

In a later order, on March 18, Gov. Sununu ordered health insurers to provide equal coverage for telemedicine. In other words, health insurers cannot require people to meet with their health care providers face-to-face to get coverage for an appointment.  

An April 9 order requires insurers to cover services provided at alternative care sites as if they were in-network.  Alternative care sites include temporary hospitals built in locations such as gymnasiums.  Since patients without COVID-19 may be transferred or diverted to other hospitals or care sites to manage the flow of COVID-19 patients, the requirements for insurance coverage apply even if a patient is not being treated for COVID-19.

An April 24 executive order forbids signature requirements for prescription receipts, unless there are federal signature requirements for a controlled substance.  The April 24 order also specifically requires health insurers to continue employer sponsored coverage for furloughed employees, if the employer wants to do so.  Lastly, the April 24 order declares that, for worker's compensation purposes, it is presumed that a first responder's COVID-19 infection is occupationally-related.

No visitors for residential facilities

As part of his emergency declaration on March 13, Gov. Sununu prohibited visitors to any assisted living facilities, long term care facilities, nursing facilities, residential care facilities, and any other similar facilities for “elderly or infirm patients.”

Temporary housing

On April 9 Gov. Sununu ordered state and local officials to work with the private sector to identify an isolation site for homeless individuals with COVID-19.  The order also directs officials to work with shelters to increase social distancing.

Lastly, the April 9 order directs officials to provide non-congregate temporary housing for first responders and health care workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and cannot return home due to the risk of infecting others.

Resources for victims of violence at home

On April 1 Gov. Sununu established the COVID-19 Emergency Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Relief Fund.  That fund includes $600,000 for domestic and sexual violence crisis centers to provide services to victims during the pandemic. 

On the same day Gov. Sununu expanded various other programs aimed at family violence, including child abuse.  For example, he authorized the Division of Children, Youth and Families to convert all Family Violence Prevention Specialist positions from part-time to full-time.

DMV and Toll Changes

Starting March 23, the DMV will offer limited in-person appointments at their locations. 

On March 27 the governor issued an executive order allowing six-month driver's license renewals without someone coming in for a vision test.  Anyone renewing a disability placard or license plate is also granted a six-month extension without an in-person examination.

The March 27 order also makes some changes to driver education.  For now the classroom portion of driver education can take place completely online.  Students may complete the mandatory six hours of observation with a parent driving.  The order does not change the required ten hours of driving time with an instructor.

Starting Monday, March 30 the Department of Transportation will only accept exact change at toll plazas.  Drivers without exact change may drive through E-ZPass lanes, then pay online or by telephone within seven days.  Click here for more information.

The state also announced it would close most rest areas and welcome centers starting April 5.

Local government changes

On March 23 Gov. Sununu waived many in-person requirements for public meetings under the right-to-know law.  There must still be some way for the public to access the meeting remotely, for example by calling in.

On April 1 Gov. Sununu issued an executive order allowing municipalities greater flexibility in many areas during the pandemic:

  • Local governing bodies can sign manifests outside public meetings, with electronic signatures.
  • Local governing bodies do not have to follow meeting schedules or deadlines written in law.  That includes holding planning board meetings and approving planning board applications.  The executive order includes a process for contractors to start building projects if permits and inspections don't go forward.
  • Towns that postponed their town meetings or elections do not have to repeat hearings.
  • Local governments can spend money outside the regular budget to address the COVID-19 pandemic without a public hearing.  The state Department of Revenue Administration must approve any expenditures.
  • Many other local government functions can move online.  For example, municipalities are allowed to move welfare applications and vital records requests online or by appointment only.

On April 3 Gov. Sununu also announced that municipalities may choose to waive interest on late property tax payments.

An April 24 order waives the 28-day waiting period before a retired government employee can start working in a different government position part-time.

On May 4 Sununu announced the state was sending $40 million to cities and towns from federal funds to cover coronavirus-related expenditures.  

Other remote government services

The New Hampshire Legislature suspended legislative activity in March.  The House reconvened for two days in June at the Whittemore Arena on the UNH campus in Durham.  The Senate met in Representatives Hall at the Statehouse.  Click here to learn about the legislation they passed.

The New Hampshire judicial branch similarly suspended most in-person court proceedings.  Starting in May, people entering courts must wear a mask.

On March 24 Gov. Sununu announced three websites to connect New Hampshire residents with volunteer opportunities during the emergency.  NHResponds.org provides an online registration portal for medical and non-medical volunteers. VolunteerNH.org connects residents with nonprofits looking for volunteers.  Lastly, NHEconomy.com/PPEHelp shows businesses what supplies the state needs and how to provide them.

Planning for voting this fall

The New Hampshire Attorney General and Secretary of State released a memo on April 10 that says, "Any voter may request an absentee ballot for the September 2020 Primary and November 2020 General Elections based on concerns regarding COVID-19."

Secretary of State Bill Gardner later assembled a six-person committee to oversee the spending of $3.2 million from the federal government to plan for elections during the pandemic.  That funding will help cover the cost of processing additional absentee ballots.  The committee's June report lays out a plan to provide PPE to poll workers, pay for increased absentee ballot processing, and allow voters to register by mail.  Click here to learn more about voting during the coronavirus pandemic in New Hampshire.

On May 13 Gov. Sununu waived the requirement for voters to appear in person to change their party affiliation before the next primary election.  Voters will be allowed to change party affiliation in-person at the polls on primary day, September 8.

Gov. Sununu later signed HB 1266, a bill that revises various election procedures to accommodate the coronavirus, such as allowing voters to simultaneously request ballots for the primary and general elections.

Federal policy impacting New Hampshire

On April 3 the federal government approved a major disaster declaration in New Hampshire, which gives the state access to more federal resources.

President Trump has also signed four bills aimed at the coronavirus.

The first bill set aside close to $7.8 billion to combat the spread of the virus. Funding went to everything from medical supplies to local emergency preparation.

The second bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, does the following:

  • Requires free coronavirus testing, regardless of insurance coverage.
  • Requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave if an employee is quarantined, experiencing symptoms, or caring for a family member. Employers will get a tax credit to offset costs.
  • Expands unemployment grants to help states cover higher unemployment claims.
  • Expands funding and eligibility for various food programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The third bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, sets aside over $2 trillion dollars in funding for businesses, state and local governments, and individuals impacted by COVID-19.  Learn more here.  New Hampshire is getting over $1 billion from the CARES Act, but federal guidance strictly limits that money to coronavirus-specific expenses.  State and local governments will not be able to use those funds to cover general budget shortfalls when tax revenue plummets this year.

A fourth bill sets aside an additional $484 billion for coronavirus aid.  In particular, the bill adds funds to the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans for employers to cover payroll during the emergency.  The fourth bill also provides additional funds for health care and coronavirus testing. 

Congress has yet to agree on a fifth relief bill.  Proposals include additional payments to individuals and state governments.

State management of federal money

On April 7 Gov. Sununu announced the creation of the Governor's Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR).  That office and its director will oversee the use of federal funding from the CARES Act.  According to the governor, the office will manage "the accounting, auditing, legal, and IT requirements" for the investments.  An advisory board of legislative leaders will have "a voice in investment activities."

Democratic legislative leaders sued Gov. Sununu for more formal legislative involvement; that case is ongoing.

On May 15, following input from the GOFERR legislative advisory board, Gov. Sununu announced $595 million in new spending from federal CARES Act money, including:

  • $50 million more for health care, with $30 million specifically for long-term care providers
  • $60 million for nonprofits
  • $25 million for childcare
  • $400 million for small business grants
  • $15 million for farms, the NH Food Bank, and the food supply
  • $15 million for the university and community college systems
  • $30 million for the Business Finance Authority to distribute other forgivable business loans

On June 11 Gov. Sununu announced the following additional spending:

  • $35 million for housing assistance
  • $50 million for broadband development
  • $15 million for homeless shelters
  • $10 million for private colleges and universities
  • $2 million for Chambers of Commerce

Since then Gov. Sununu has also announced:

  • $2 million for youth focused programs (e.g. PPE for youth summer fitness programs, training for teachers on remote learning strategies)
  • $2 million for community organizations that work with youth, such as Girls, Inc. and the Police Athletic League
  • $1 million for the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce
  • $6 million for substance use disorder and mental health treatment
  • $7 million for veterans assistance
  • $1.5 million for Volunteer New Hampshire
  • $19 million for the university system to go to facility modifications and protective equipment
  • $6 million for the community college system to provide tuition assistance for new and continuing students impacted by COVID-19
  • $8 million to expand the preexisting UNIQUE scholarship program
  • $1.5 million for scholarships for students in grades K-12
  • $4 million for a special education provider fund

In September 2020 FEMA announced that they would not reimburse schools for PPE purchases.  Gov. Sununu said that he will work with school districts to access CARES Act funds to purchase PPE.

Reopening the state

On April 21 Gov. Sununu announced an Economic Re-Opening Task Force to "develop a plan and oversee the state and private-sector actions needed to reopen New Hampshire's economy while minimizing the adverse impact on public health."

The Task Force includes an equal number of Democratic and Republican legislators in addition to various state officials and representatives of the business community.

Click here to see information about the latest meetings and actions from the Economic Re-Opening Task Force.

Comments

Robert

Where in the constitution does this power come from?

Myla

It's so great to see that the small people whom also play a big part in this epidemic and risk their lives daily on less than minimum wage get nothing.. If your grocery stores closed down and your food supplies cut short it would be another crisis. We're important too and you only call Front Line workers that deserve that extra help are your doctors, nurses, emts, fire fighters, and law enforcement...Am beside myself after reading this and realize who really is important here and who is not. I am a grocery store worker and the risks we take daily are far and beyond, we supply our own masks, gloves, sanitizers, cleaners, we have plastic wrap as a shield!Plastic wrap, seriously...and we continue to serve people risking ours n our families lives just as much as the next person. All people on the frontlines are equally risking their lives daily, we struggle daily to keep people distanced, safe, including ourselves, taking care of our families on what little we have,the daily stresses of food prices soaring are hurting many of us, people hoarding, fighting, lack of associates due to fear or at risk, etc... We don't get hazard pay, vacations, sick time, not even benefits, but those of whom ur giving more to, more than half of those workers have all of that. Am just one small voice here but enough is enough. I'm sick and tired of being made to feel as if we are under appreciated for all that we do, we go unnoticed more often than not. The occasional customer who comes in everyday and says "Thank you for being here", " It's not right you're left out". Those few people who recognize us are the ones who make my job a little brighter in that moment. I personally as well as the most amazing coworker's whom I work with daily, I myself have been there almost 2 years now, called out once due to an emergancy, fought homelessness for a year and still showed up every day, those are the ppl who deserve our appreciation more than they know, those whom are fighting for us as equals. I go to work and sit for a hour daily in my car to alleviate the anxiety that fills me not knowing what that day will bring. It's going to be ok though, we at least recognize ourselves and our part, I guess that counts for something. So basically in the end; if you're unemployed because you weren't essential you benefit, and everyone in the healthcare, legal, and fire department are the only essential frontline workers from what I read above who can really use the Stipends/extra money because they're not already making enough, and as we have been considered front line in the beginning are nobody now pretty much..Well stop eating and drinking people because that's not essential for life to continue on, you'll survive, in my opinion as polite as one could be these are my personal feelings along with many others that had to be said. Have a wonderful day, and thank you to all of us essential workers out there for your bravery and services that each of us have played a very important part in to fight this. We're all deserving in my eyes.

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