New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu ushered in the opening Monday of restaurants in his state for limited outdoor dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and he said officials hope to open beaches by June 1, though there are no guarantees on that front.
Speaking during an afternoon briefing, Sununu said “today restaurants are able to start offering outdoor seating across the state" with "proper safety guidelines.” Restaurants can now serve outdoor diners at 50 percent capacity, with six feet between tables.
Asked about workers who may feel apprehensive about returning to restaurant jobs amid the health crisis, Sununu said he understands if “folks are feeling uncomfortable," adding that “there’s a lot of unemployment insurance out there” for people who have lost their jobs.
At the same time, Sununu said, “you can’t ask a business to shut down” because staffers don’t want to return to work. He said state officials are “very confident” that restaurants can safely offer limited outdoor dining if the safety guidance is followed.
In addition, Sununu said New Hampshire beaches could reopen in the coming weeks, though a precise date isn’t certain.
“If we can get open by June 1, I think that’s a goal,” he said. “But it’s not a promise, by any means.”
Stores and hair salons opened across New Hampshire last week to a trickle of customers.
Sununu has urged caution as the state begins what his office calls “Stay At Home 2.0," stressing that the virus could easily spread quickly without proper vigilance. He has reopened industries in phases under tight safety restrictions to draw people back to work in a state where an estimated 20 percent of the workforce has become unemployed.
On May 4, the state’s hospitals, which never came close to capacity during the lockdown and lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue, returned to treating patients who needed heart operations, spine surgeries, joint replacements, and other key procedures.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, said during Monday’s briefing that 3,652 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the virus has killed 172 people in the state, either directly or as a result of complications.
Chan urged state residents to continue to take “appropriate social distancing" measures and warned that “we certainly are at risk” of worsening the outbreak or seeing a second wave of infections “if we relax social distancing measures too rapidly or too quickly.”
Naomi Martin and Gal Tziperman Lotan of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.