New Hampshire House picks hotel for new pandemic location
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The 400-member New Hampshire House won’t be heading back to the Statehouse when it convenes in January. Instead, its first three session days will be held at a Manchester hotel exposition center, House Speaker Sherman Packard said Wednesday.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the House has met at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on an athletic field, from their cars in a parking lot, and more recently, inside a Bedford athletic complex.
The athletic complex wasn’t available in January, so the House will meet in a 30,000-square-foot event facility at the DoubleTree by Hilton, said Packard, who became speaker after fellow Republican Dick Hinch died of COVID-19.
Packard said masks will be optional, and seating will be set aside for those wearing them.
“With hospitalizations at record levels and community transmission still high, the responsible thing to do is to maintain health and safety protocols for our legislators and hold off on returning to the House chamber, at least for now,” he said.
While Democrats have unsuccessfully fought for remote access to legislative sessions, some Republicans wanted to return to sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in Representatives’ Hall.
“Are some people going to die?” Rep. Joe Pitre, R-Farmington, told WMUR-TV. “Possibly. But what’s the counter-effects if you don’t get back together and go back to normal.”
Gov. Chris Sununu praised the decision, saying it will “allow full participation of the Legislature in a safe way.”
Speaking at news conference, he also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending a team of 24 to 36 doctors, nurses and other health care workers to Elliot Hospital in Manchester to help ease the burden of COVID-19 patients. The agency also is sending 30 paramedics to the some of the other struggling hospitals.
Meanwhile, the Executive Council on Wednesday approved funding to bring in “strike teams” from outside the state to supplement staff at long-term care facilities, and the New Hampshire National Guard will deploy 70 members to hospitals to help with everything from clerical work to food service, Sununu said.
As of Wednesday, there were 462 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Hampshire, nearly 40% higher than the previous peak in January.