WINDHAM — Gov. Chris Sununu spoke July 16 at the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce’s first event since March, when the coronavirus pandemic caused a shutdown of the economy and a postponement of most large gatherings.
Sununu’s speech focused on the local, state and national response to COVID-19, as well as the changes and precautions needed to keep the pandemic from worsening in the state and the region.
Those precautions were evident at the breakfast of 150 attendees in the space that can accommodate 500. People were asked to wear masks when not eating. Chairs placed around tables were more than 6 feet apart.
Some event sponsors also donated pandemic-themed swag, like KN95 face masks from Foxx Life Sciences, a lab equipment manufacturer in Salem, and hand sanitizer from Evolve Salon Systems, a high-end hair product manufacturer in Derry.
Sununu cautioned people about the return to business as the number of coronavirus cases continues to spike in other areas of the country. He urged the crowd to stay vigilant and continue practicing distancing and wearing masks.
He said going back to school or to the office can be concerning for many.
“These things scare me and they should scare you,” he said. “But if we stay disciplined, and we do it the right way, and take extra precautions — it can be managed. Everything can be managed.”
He explained that certain business restrictions — like the 50% capacity in restaurants in the southern tier of the state — are going to continue for a while to prevent a spike in the number of coronavirus cases. However, he said he will continue looking at the data and reverse course if needed.
He highlighted programs, such as the Main Street Relief Fund, which has given out more than $350 million in grants across the state. Grants awarded have averaged about $60,000, according to the governor.
Then he threw a few political punches at the federal response to the crisis.
“When it comes to innovating solutions, understanding what is happening on the ground, working with governors in a constructive way, I got to tell you the Congress is failing. They are failing. I think all of Washington is failing frankly,” he said. “Mayors, governors, business leaders, executives, we are the ones on the front lines getting it done, not just for our citizens, but for your businesses. When it comes to the legislature: Fire them all. I say fire them all.
“I have a good working relationship with Sen. (Jeanne) Shaheen and Sen. (Maggie) Hassan, (but) I think they have to go. How can you support an income tax or business tax increases or getting rid of the Electoral College and be from the state of New Hampshire? That’s shameful.”
Sununu was asked specifically if he would consider similar programs of granting money, like the Main Street Relief Fund, geared toward commercial landlords and franchise owners. There are no plans in the works right now for any further economic relief, he said.
Sununu was also asked about the financial health of hospitals in the state. He shared his concerns for those in the hardest-hit areas including Rockingham County and Manchester. While the federal government provided lots of money to hospitals, he explained at the state level he has directed about $40 million of the federal CARES Act money he has control over to go hospitals and an additional $100 million to other healthcare offices.
“Our promise is: No one should be closing doors to anybody,” Sununu said.
“We are rushing to go to restaurants and support local businesses, do the same (for healthcare providers). Go support your local hospital and get a surgery on your way out,” Sununu said, cracking a joke and urging people to get any healthcare procedures they may have pushed off because of the virus.