Unruly tourists straining town budget during pandemic
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Tourists acting like sailors on shore leave are straining town services in Conway, New Hampshire, the town manager said Thursday in seeking federal assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom Holmes was among several municipal, county and state officials who joined U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas for an online discussion about the next round of virus relief aid being debated in Congress. He said the influx of summer visitors to his town has led to an increase in everything from road rage incidents to dangerous fires set by people camping in off-limits areas. And the town has doubled its spending on trash collection and cleaning at recreational areas, he said.
“We’re seeing that the people visiting us right now are a little more unruly than they were in the past,” he said. “Being a Navy veteran, I think I know the reason. It’s as if they were out at sea for a long time, and all of sudden they’re in port and letting off steam. It’s created some local fear, and anger.”
While the state has passed on some of its initial $1.25 billion in funding to communities, no New Hampshire town, city or county got money directly from the federal government because their populations fall below the threshold for such help. Pappas backs a House measure that would provide $1.5 billion for New Hampshire towns, cities and counties.
“Anyone who’s ever had to balance a budget knows that with less money coming in and more money going out, that doesn’t create a sustainable picture for state and local government,” he said. “And that’s why Congress has to act.”
“When you’re in a situation like this and an unprecedented pandemic occurs, we need to react fast. We need to be able to turn on a dime, and we’re going to need a lot of dimes to deal with this,” Holmes said. “If we were allowed the direct funds, we’d have the flexibility — us here in the trenches — to put them where they’re needed.”
In other coronavirus-related developments in New Hampshire:
PARK YOUR ENGINES
NASCAR drivers and their teams won’t be racking up many miles outside New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend — the state is requiring them to remain either at the track or at their hotels during their stay.
“They don’t go out to dinner, they don’t go out and get coffee, nothing like that. They’re really quarantined in that bubble between where they sleep and where they work,” Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.
The speedway in Loudon is hosting the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday, the first large sports event with spectators in New England since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the state allowed the speedway to host up to 35% of its capacity, the roughly 12,000 tickets sold amounted to closer to 20%, Sununu said. About 90% were sold within New England.
According to the state’s lodging guidelines, anyone from outside New England staying overnight in a New Hampshire hotel, motel or rental property is supposed to quarantine at home for 14 days before arriving.
Fans will be required to wear masks when not in their assigned seats.
Operators of water parks and other seasonal attractions are hoping to expand their capacity for the rest of a summer that already has been shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Amusement parks and other venues were allowed to open in late June at 25% capacity. Jeb Boyd, the chief executive officer at Whale’s Tale Waterpark and Alpine Adventures in Lincoln and Candia Springs Adventure Park in Candia, said Thursday the parks have reached that capacity multiple times. Visitors are following social distancing guidelines, he said, and there’s plenty more room for them to spread out.
“It’s a ghost town at 25 percent,” he told the Economic Reopening Task Force.
Boyd said it’s unfair hotels have been allowed to increase occupancy to 100% and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be allowed to host up to 35% of its capacity for this weekend’s NASCAR race, while his business and others are limited. Meanwhile, he has noticed an increase in people congregating to swim in rivers, where no safety precautions are taken.
“It’s absolutely a mess, not to mention the fact there’s no social distancing,” he said. “It’s very unsafe.”
At the Mount Washington Cog Railway, tourist trains have been allowed to operate at 50% capacity. But owner Wayne Presby told the task force he hopes the state will bump that up soon.
As of Thursday, 6,544 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 33 from the previous day. Four new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 415. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 23 new cases per day on July 15 to 34 new cases per day on July 29.
Starting next week, the state will begin transitioning its nine temporary testing locations to hospitals around the state, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said.
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.