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New Hampshire, Vermont governors diverge on ‘stay home’ order

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, right, examines bedding as he tours a makeshift medical facility with N.H. Army National Guard Col. David Mikolaities, left, at a gymnasium at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The facility, and others across the state, will open when there is demand for patients impacted with COVID-19. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • Vermont representatives sit spaced apart to meet the social distance requirements set by the governor as House Clerk Bill McGill, left, foreground, speaks at the podium, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. The House was working to pass measures designed to help the state respond to the coronavirus pandemic. (Michael Dougherty/VTDigger, Pool via AP) Michael Dougherty

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2020 8:37:56 PM
Modified: 3/25/2020 8:37:51 PM

HANOVER — Public health experts on Wednesday praised Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order mandating that Vermonters stay home and go out only for essential purposes, saying the measure will save lives.

They also called on New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has been reluctant to issue a stay-at-home order, to follow suit.

“My urging is that we need to do this sooner rather than later,” said Dr. Lisa Adams, associate dean for global health at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

Stay-at-home orders — like those issued in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont — clarify which precautions are needed to stem the spread of COVID-19 and cement the message that social distancing isn’t just for elderly and at-risk populations, she said.

“Anything we can do to limit our contact and interactions with others is what we should be doing,” said Adams, co-chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Task Force. “This is not a time for meeting your friends and going for a walk in the park. This is really about staying home as much as possible to limit the spread of the virus.”

Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which took effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, calls on Vermonters to only leave home for essential trips, such as grocery shopping, exercise, caring for others and work if their employers remain open.

It also closes “in-person operations for all non-essential businesses.” Health care providers, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, gas stations and fuel suppliers are among industries exempt from the order.

Scott characterized the measure as one of the strongest in the country.

“Everyone should be erring on the side of public health. We need people to keep their distance from each other,” he said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

“Just to put this into perspective for those that may think we’re going too far, this virus is spreading quickly,” Scott added. “It may not have affected you yet, but all too soon many of us will know someone personally and then it will start to feel very real.”

The Vermont order is a “great example of productive leadership,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease physician and director of clinical ethics at the University of Vermont.

Social distancing is a key tool public policymakers can utilize to save lives, and stay-at-home orders provide a “crystal clear message” to those either confused or unwilling to protect themselves, he said.

“I think it’s natural for all of us to think that public health messages just don’t apply, that ‘stay at home’ is just for the old, frail people,” Lahey said. “That kind of mistake could be deadly right now.”

Lahey went on to say that governors who wait to issue stay-at-home orders are “lagging behind.”

“They can speak up and be leaders or be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of elderly people,” he said.

Sununu has so far declined to issue a formal order telling residents to stay at home, despite pleas from health officials, many Democrats and leaders of the state’s two largest cities.

The governor “has been advising Granite Staters to stay home for over a week,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “He has been very clear that he is willing to take additional steps through orders as the situation develops. New Hampshire’s response is in line with what state health officials think is appropriate at this time.”

On Tuesday, Sununu said no state had mandated that people stay home and not leave, including New York.

“Nobody is doing a true shelter at home,” said Sununu, who left the door open for additional steps to enforce social distancing, saying, “things could ramp up.”

State Sen. John Morgan, D-Brentwood, the head of Exeter (N.H.) Hospital, recently signed a letter asking the governor for a stay-at-home order. The mayors of Nashua and Manchester, as well as 200 Democratic members of the New Hampshire House, have requested the same action.

Locally, Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said she’s in favor of a stay-at-home order.

“I am not sure it would be of much more help as lots of folks are already complying, but, in this game, every little bit helps to convince more people to stay at home,” she said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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