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Governor: New Hampshire won’t require schools to reopen

July 14, 2020 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire will not require any schools to reopen this fall, but is offering guidance on how districts can do so safely.

Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday outlined recommendations for screening, social distancing, hygiene and other safety measures aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus. While President Donald Trump is demanding that schools resume in-person instruction, New Hampshire is leaving it to each school district to decide whether to fully return to the classroom, continue with remote instruction or combine those two options.

“We feel very confident that all students can come back to the classroom in a safe, health and productive manner, in a practical way,” he said. “We also appreciate that in some districts, it could be because of staffing, it could be because of public health anxiety — maybe the rate of COVID starts to skyrocket in one town versus another — we want them to have that flexibility.”

The 54-page roadmap released Tuesday includes information about rearranging classrooms to maximize social distancing, screening of staff and visitors and other precautions. Schools that do reopen must provide accommodations for students and educators who are not able to return due to underlying health concerns. Masks will be required for all outside visitors, including parents, and strongly encouraged for staff and students under certain circumstances, for example, when within 3 feet (1 meter) of each other during group activities.

Dr. Ben Chan, the state epidemiologist, acknowledged that some of the recommendations are inconsistent with previous advise to wear face coverings when within 6 feet (2 meters) of others. But he said, taken as a whole, the guidance is built upon layers of protection.

“I almost think about this as a Swiss cheese model. Each layer has holes. No layer is going to be 100% effective at preventing transmission, but when you put the layers together, the goal is to minimize the risk to staff, to children in the classroom, while trying to maximize the educational benefit of bringing students back to class,” Chan said.

The Republican governor initially ordered all schools to close for three weeks, starting March 16, and later extended that for the remainder of the academic year. The new guidance emphasizes that the pandemic “has created a traumatic event in the lives of students and educators” and urges school staff to support their social and emotional needs.

“Schools will need to model a sense of calmness and self-assurance to their students as they enter the school year,” the guidance states.

Other coronavirus-related developments in New Hampshire:

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REQUIRED FACE COVERINGS

The city of Portsmouth is moving toward requiring the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Portsmouth Herald reports that the City Council voted 9-0 in favor of a mask mandate resolution Monday night and will meet with the city attorney later this week to write a formal ordinance.

Momentum for such a mandate grew after Trump announced plans to hold a campaign rally at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease on July 11. The president later postponed the rally, citing the threat of bad weather, and Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday he has not heard from the president about rescheduling.

The resolution calls for the wearing of face coverings when people are within 6 feet (2 meters) of each other. It wouldn’t apply to children ages 6 or younger, people with a medical condition where wearing a mask may pose a risk, or individuals walking, biking or exercising as long as social distancing is maintained.

A judge this week refused to strike down Nashua’s mask ordinance while it’s being challenged in court.

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UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

New Hampshire’s 11.8% unemployment rate for June reflects the impact of the pandemic, officials say.

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The rate was a decrease of 3.6% from May, which increased to 15.4% after revision. The June 2019 seasonally adjusted rate was 2.5%.

The number of employed residents for June was 656,580, an increase of 35,460 from the previous month and a decrease of 97,190 from June 2019.

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June was 11.1 %, a decrease of 2.2% from the May rate, and an increase of 7.4% from the June 2019 rate.

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THE NUMBERS

As of Tuesday, nearly 6,100 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, and 392 had died. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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.

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Associated Press writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.

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