By: Kevin Landrigan, New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD -- Nearly three months after their dining rooms were closed, New Hampshire restaurants and banquet halls will soon reopen for indoor dining and wedding receptions, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Friday.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sununu is opening parts of the state more than the rest, in this case when it comes to sit-down dining.
Starting June 15, restaurants in Hillsborough, Rockingham, Strafford and Merrimack counties will be allowed to seat up to 50% of their capacity.
Restaurants in the six other counties, including businesses in the tourist-driven Lakes Region and North Country, can open up to 100% capacity as long as they have at least 6 feet between tables, Sununu said.
“We are going to take another step, and this time it’s a geographic step,” Sununu said.
Sununu made the distinction because an estimated 90% of the COVID-19 cases have occurred in those four southern counties.
Sununu said the continued incidence of the disease in Massachusetts is another factor.
It’s less likely that a Massachusetts couple will drive to central or northern New Hampshire for dinner, he said.
“When you are opening up a restaurant, one of the fears…is folks in the high-impacted areas (like Massachusetts) would come up and use our restaurants,” Sununu said.
“This will allow us to better manage and control the spread of the disease.”
Likewise, wedding reception venues will be limited to 50% capacity. That will apply uniformly across the state.
Sununu justified the difference between weddings and restaurants by noting that the risk of transmitting the virus at a wedding reception is greater than at a sit-down dinner.
“When you are in a restaurant, the ability to interact between people from table to table is very limited,” Sununu said.
“You are in your own group. When you are in a wedding reception, you are all together, the environment is far more prone to people going throughout the room meeting with family, friends, guests. That’s one of the fundamental differences.”
Other rules for these venues remain the same, including face coverings for staff, disposable menus and frequent cleaning and disinfecting.
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