New Hampshire's GOP Governor Allows Restaurants to Open at 100% Capacity

Republican New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced Friday that restaurants in the state can now open at 100 percent dine-in capacity, citing a reduction in the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants had already been at 100 percent capacity in six of the state's Northern and Western counties, where the virus had limited prevalence. However, they had remained at 50 percent capacity in four other counties located in the more densely populated Southern part of the state.

"We're coming into the fall months, our numbers are very good," Sununu said at a press conference. "Outdoor seating is probably not as possible or going to be as possible as it was over the summer. So effective immediately, we'll have 100 percent capacity in restaurants that choose to do so."

Gov. Chris Sununu
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu waves from the stage prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire on August 02, 2020. Maddie Meyer/Getty

Sununu added that preventative measures would continue to be enforced, including mandatory masks for staff and unseated customers and a prohibition on standing or gathering at bars. Restaurants are also required to ensure that parties are seated 6 feet apart. It is not clear how many of New Hampshire's restaurants have enough space to both operate at full capacity and strictly maintain 6 feet of physical distancing between patrons.

"The six-foot distancing is very important," Sununu said. "Wearing masks in the public areas of those establishments is very important, making sure that the staff is wearing the masks... all those provisions are in place and will remain in place for quite some time, without a doubt."

"Social distancing, that's so important in terms of the transmissibility of the virus when in indoor facilities," he added. "If you are in a bar or a restaurant, there is no standing at the bar, there is no congregating. You have to maintain those distances."

Research suggests that the risk of transmitting the virus indoors can be substantial, with a Japanese study finding the indoor risk to be nearly 19 times greater than outdoors. An August 6 report from Center for American Progress suggested that limiting indoor dining was associated with states in the Northeast seeing reduced cases. Some states in other regions closed bars and restaurants for a second time when a spike in cases occurred after they were reopened.

New Hampshire has had one of the lowest COVID-19 case totals among U.S. states, reporting 7,071 since the pandemic began, along with 428 related deaths. The state reported 24 new cases and no deaths on Friday. State epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said "the COVID numbers for New Hampshire continue to look good," adding that a "positive trend" was ongoing, with an average of 20 new cases per day and a testing positivity rate under 1 percent.

Newsweek reached out to Sununu's office for comment.