Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic around New England:
Beaches are open again to sunbathers, and a lawsuit challenging the governor’s spending authority during the coronavirus pandemic is back on the docket.
Dining and dancing: New Hampshire restaurants can resume indoor dining June 15, but capacity will be limited in the four counties that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus, Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday.
After being restricted to outdoor dining since May 18, restaurants will be allowed to offer indoor dining at tables spread 6 feet apart. Those in Rockingham, Hillsborough, Merrimack and Strafford counties will be limited to 50% capacity, however, not just because the vast majority of the state’s COVID-19 cases have occurred there, but because of their proximity to the Massachusetts border.
“By maintaining limitations along the southern tier, it will allow us to better manage and limit the ability of individuals to come over the border to use our restaurants,” Sununu said.
The rules also apply to large, catered events such as wedding receptions, which will be limited to 50% of a venue’s capacity statewide. Though he joked about banning the Funky Chicken and the Macarena, Sununu said dancing will be permitted.
“We are strongly discouraging it,” he said. “We’re asking folks to be smart about it, but I’m not gonna be the guy in Footloose who says, ‘No dancing in my town.’”
Effective immediately, golf courses are not longer restricted to New Hampshire residents, and the minimum break between tee times has been reduced. Previous rules for outdoor attractions such as mini-golf and canoe rentals also have been expanded to allow the reopening of batting cages, petting zoos, ropes courses and other businesses.
Testing challenge: New Hampshire public heath officials are asking as many residents as possible to get tested for the coronavirus.
The state recently lifted all criteria for getting tested. On Friday, officials announced a community challenge dubbed ASAP: Asymptomatic Spread Assessment Program, and encouraged everyone to get tested.
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said she has been surprised at how many asymptomatic people tested positive when the state tested all nursing home residents and staff.
On the beaches: Sunbathing, sandcastle building and other activities are now allowed on New Hampshire beaches, Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday.
The announcement came just four days after beaches had re-opened to walking, swimming and other motion-based activity.
Sununu said the decision to remove the restrictions was based on public health data regarding the spread of the coronavirus. Parking remains limited, and groups must stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart from each other.
Opponents of the initial beach restrictions and the Republican governor’s decisions in general had planned to hold a protest to “draw a line in the sand” at Hampton on Saturday. Andrew Manuse, chairman of ReopenNH, said Friday that the “Storm the Beaches” rally will be held as a celebration.
Spending spat: A judge on Friday allowed Democratic lawmakers to move forward with a lawsuit challenging Sununu’s authority to spend federal coronavirus relief aid but refused to halt the spending in the meantime.
The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate sued Sununu in April arguing that such spending requires approval by the Legislature’s fiscal committee. A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge later said they lacked standing to sue and dismissed the case, but after the plaintiffs asked him to reconsider, ruled Friday that the case can proceed.
Judge David Anderson said the plaintiffs who serve on the fiscal committee do have standing. But he refused to order to stop spending the money while the case proceeds. He said while state law doesn’t provide a clear picture of the process for such spending, the 2002 law Sununu used as his defense is the Legislature’s most specific statement on the governor’s power during an emergency.
The numbers: As of Friday, 4,953 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 80 from the previous day. Five deaths were announced, for a total of 278.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.
Vermont health officials said Friday they are expecting more positive cases of the novel coronavirus as testing continues in the city of Winooski, where 34 cases have already been confirmed.
Speaking alongside city officials, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday 93 lab tests remain pending and additional tests are being conducted.
“Really, the only way to stop an outbreak is to do it together,” Levine said during an outdoor news conference in Winooski Friday morning. “Every single person is needed to keep this disease from spreading.”
Vermont has had a low number of new virus cases, and while the 34 new cases reported Thursday was the largest-single day increase in weeks, health officials have been expecting outbreaks.
The plan is to contain the outbreaks with aggressive testing for the virus and working to ensure it doesn’t continue to spread.
Winooski, with a population of about 7,300 in 1.4 square miles, is considered one of Vermont’s most diverse and densely populated communities that is home to many non-English speakers.
“So far, the cases are confined to one social-network of families,” Gov. Phil Scott said later Friday at his regular COVID-19 briefing.
The cases are spread throughout the city and officials are working to ensure the immigrant communities have the information they need , other officials said.
City and state officials are working to ensure that everyone is aware of what is needed to confront the outbreak.
Reopening: Despite the Winooski cluster of cases, Scott and others said the number of new cases being reported in the state remains low and it wouldn’t change the state’s reopening plans.
Scott outlined plans to allow indoor dining at restaurants and bars to resume Monday. The establishments will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity, parties must remain at least six feet apart and reservations will be required
“I know we still have a very long way to go to help our restaurants get back on their feet,” Scott said. “I know they can’t make it on 25% capacity, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
The state will also begin allowing visitors from New York and the other New England states to visit Vermont without quarantining for two weeks if they come from any of 55 counties in the region that have virus infection rates of less than 400 per million residents.
The new rules will also allow Vermonters to travel to those areas and return without having to quarantine.
The state is also increasing the lodging capacity to 50%, including campgrounds.
The numbers: On Friday, the Vermont Department of Health reported two two new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 for a total of just under 1,030 cases. The number of deaths remained at 55.
President Donald Trump on Friday laced into Maine’s Democratic governor for not moving quickly enough to reopen the state’s economy and urged his supporters to help him win the rest of the state in November if they want to see the country rebound from the coronavirus shutdown.
Referring to Maine’s electoral votes, Trump said: “Get that other half to go with Trump.” He spoke in the small town of Guilford, home to Puritan Medical Products, one of only two major companies producing a special type of swab needed to ramp up coronavirus testing.
At stops in Guilford and Bangor, Trump used his first visit to the state as president to lob jabs at Gov. Janet Mills for not reopening businesses more quickly. Trump won just one of Maine’s three electoral votes in 2016.
“When are you going to open the state up?” Trump demanded as he spoke at Puritan Medical Products. “What’s she doing?”
Earlier in Bangor, Trump compared Mills to a “dictator” and said she was preventing her state from reaping money from Maine’s busy summer tourist season.
“She’s going to destroy your state,” he said. “I’m not a fan.”
Mills responded with a lengthy rebuttal.
“Yesterday, I asked the president to check his rhetoric at the door and to lead us with courage and compassion through this difficult time,” she said. “Sadly, but unsurprisingly, he continues to prove himself incapable of doing so.”
“What Maine people heard today was more of the same incendiary rhetoric and insults he uses to try to divide us and to stoke tension and fear. What Maine people heard today was largely devoid of fact and absent of reality. What Maine people saw today was a rambling, confusing, thinly veiled political rally.”
She rebuffed Trump’s claim that Maine remained shuttered by the virus, saying 13 of Maine’s 16 counties have been reopened and that the state was the first in New England to allow indoor dining at restaurants.
Virus data: The most densely populated part of Portland has the highest incidence of the coronavirus, and there’s a high rate of infection in neighboring communities as well, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.
Maine is the last state in New England to release local data about the virus. It had previously made only county-level information available.
Lewiston had the largest total number of cases per ZIP code, with 203 positive tests for the virus, which came as no surprise to city officials.
“We have long believed cases would be higher in Lewiston because of our dense neighborhoods and the regular travel between southern Maine,” Mayor Mark Cayer told the Sun Journal.
The highest infection rates per capita were mostly in urban areas, with the exception of Medway, the Portland Press Herald reported Thursday.
The Penobscot County community of 13,500 had 12 cases, ranking second per capita.
The Maine CDC released the the number of positive tests by ZIP code, but there are limitations to the data.
To protect patient privacy, the Maine CDC released case counts for only 55 of Maine’s 400 ZIP codes, those where there were at least six cases and where at least 50 people live in the code.
The greatest number of cases per capita was in Portland ZIP code 04101, which includes downtown, the East End and the East Bayside neighborhood. There was one case per 110 residents in that area, and one case per 121 in Medway.
Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth came in third and fourth place. Westbrook, another part of Portland, Kittery Point, Lewiston, Cape Neddick and Scarborough rounded out the top 10 ZIP codes per capita.
The numbers: Another three people died and 36 more people tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported Friday.
That brings the totals to 98 deaths and 2,482 positives tests since March in the state, the Maine CDC said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.