Reporter Debrief: How New Hampshire Is Handling COVID-19

May 6, 2020

Every state is taking a slightly different approach to reopening their economies, and the virus has hit each region differently.

So while Vermont's new case numbers have remained fairly low the last few weeks, how are neighboring regions faring with the disease? And how are they planning to relax stay-at-home orders?

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Allows Gatherings Of 10 Or Fewer

We're checking in this week with reporters in each state (and Canadian province) that borders Vermont about how the disease is spreading and how their local government plans to re-open the economy, starting today with New Hampshire. The Granite State has about twice the population of the Green Mountain State, but on Tuesday, it reported 50 new cases of the virus, compared to 5 new cases in Vermont.

VPR's Henry Epp spoke to NHPR reporter Jason Moon. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: Is the curve flattening in New Hampshire?

Jason Moon: I think it's safe to say it's flattened out. Whether or not it is in decline is actually a bit of a debate at this point. So, Governor Sununu here has indicated that he believes that there's been enough of a decline to begin reopening some sectors of the economy. He points to a decline in the percentage of positive test results coming back.

More from VPR: Vermont Health Officials Discuss Plans For Expanded Testing, Contact Tracing

That decline though, if you look at the numbers, it hasn't been consistent over a two week period, which is what the federal guidelines are for states to begin reopening the economy. And in some other indicators, like current hospitalizations, that's actually going in the wrong direction. So those are actually ticking upwards, although there are still thousands of available hospital beds in New Hampshire at the moment, so there's lots of capacity left on that front. 

Before we go to the reopening, I just want to touch again on the healthcare system. I mean, it sounds like there's been enough capacity and hospitals have not gotten overrun with COVID-19 cases.

Yeah, and that was a really big focus of the state in the early days of this: making sure there was enough capacity. So, you know, recommending that hospitals postpone the elective procedures. They set up, I believe, 14 or 15 overflow sites. So far, that has all turned out to have been not necessary. As part of the governor's steps to reopen the economy, one of the first things that he's allowing hospitals to do is to begin to do some of those elective procedures that had been postponed.

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Allows Some Elective Surgeries And Outpatient Care To Resume

Well, let's talk more about that reopening. I understand certain businesses can open again on May 11. Is that right?

That's right. Yeah, on May 11, that process begins with golf courses, retail stores, hair salons – all with specific restrictions for each of those industries. May 18, restaurants can begin to serve customers at outdoor tables, again, with limits on how many people can be at a table, distance between tables, that sort of thing.

The question with a lot of this stuff is going to be enforcement. We’ve seen a couple of protests at the statehouse where large crowds have gathered in protest of the restrictions, clearly violating the 10-person limit for gatherings, and those went unchallenged by local authorities. So going forward, with lots of individual businesses beginning to do things, it's going to be a real question as to whether or not any of this is going to be enforceable.

What's been the reaction to some of these moves to reopen the economy? Are people on board with it, or has there been any pushback?

I think it's been mixed. Obviously, a lot of businesses are happy to be able to begin making some money after what's been an incredibly difficult period for them. I think folks like golf course owners have been among the more vocal in terms of making an argument for why they should be able to be open.

You know, the hair salon issue is an interesting one. The governor was being lobbied by hair salons to be reopened. But another group of hair salon owners said that this was irresponsible, so it's really kind of at a store by store, business by business level that people are deciding whether or not they agree with this.

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.