One of the concerns for restaurants throughout the Northeast this fall has been whether they'd be able to operate with colder weather arriving while still keeping patrons safe amid the coronavirus crisis.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday announced a change to a regulation aimed at helping those restaurants: letting them put tables closer together inside.
Currently, the state requires that indoor tables be at least six feet apart, but starting Oct. 1, restaurants can put the tables closer together, as long as there are barriers in between them.
Sununu said that the state's coronavirus data currently shows that restaurants aren't driving coronavirus cases in New Hampshire -- they had been tied to outbreaks in southern states that reopened quickly this spring -- and he said that other states have seen success putting up barriers in restaurants without causing outbreaks.
"We're very confident that we can move forward with this model in a very safe manner and still allow the staff to be safe, the employees to be safe, as well as those coming to visit those restaurants," Sununu said at his regular coronavirus briefing.
New Hampshire restaurateurs have been calling for the state to make that kind of change to its rules.
"We have been doing really good here in terms of COVID-19 cases," Matt Louis, chef and owner of The Franklin, Moxy, Street and Luigi’s West End Pizza in Portsmouth, told The Associated Press this week. "Many of us are getting creative in what we do, and I applaud that. But I would like to see the state recognize our success and look at alternatives, things like using dividers between tables."
As of Thursday, the state had reported 8,044 cases of COVID-19, with 438 deaths. Sixteen people were in the hospital, out of 281 cases active.
Sununu also announced Thursday $4 million of funding being sent to schools for students with special needs. And he said that the state's annual "trick-or-treat safety sheet" is being adapted this year to reflect the coronavirus considerations that revelers will have to take into account this Halloween.
At Sununu's regular coronavirus briefing last week, he said the beginning of the school year was "going very, very well," despite the pandemic.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state's epidemiologist, said then that the positive test rate had grown from about 20 per day to about 35 a day, but that was due mostly to the increase in testing associated with the return of students to schools and universities across the state, including a cluster at the University of New Hampshire's Gables apartment complex.