MANCHESTER, N.H. – The COVID-19 pandemic may not be over just yet, but Governor Chris Sununu believes that New Hampshire is ready for what’s next.
That was the essence of Sununu’s message at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the State presentation on Wednesday, stating that New Hampshire has the strongest economy in the northeast and that New Hampshire will be the first state to arise from the pandemic in the northeast.
He credited this to investment in small business across the state as well as basing decisions on data.
After last week’s announcement that all New Hampshire residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines as of April 2, Sununu told Manchester Chamber of Commerce CEO and event moderator Mike Skelton that he believes every resident will be able to get their first shot no later than the beginning of May. Indeed, he added that residents can get their first shots even sooner than that if they are willing to travel beyond their local areas.
However, Sununu said that out-of-state college students would still not be allowed to receive vaccinations in New Hampshire, citing federal guidelines allocating vaccine doses based on the total number of residents in a state. Sununu noted that currently no New England states are allowing out-of-state college students to receive vaccinations where they are attending school and many college students are learning remotely, with many others potentially not in New Hampshire long enough to receive a second shot. However, he noted that he would be receptive to allowing college students to receive vaccinations in New Hampshire if the federal government changed guidelines to provide additional doses.
He declined to predict when the pandemic might “end” in the Granite State, but believed that the state’s mask mandate will likely end in the next few weeks depending on how many residents receive COVID-19 vaccines. While he realizes that a projected 30 to 40 percent of New Hampshire residents may not opt to get the vaccine, he did not believe in forcing anyone to get vaccinated and stated that the rest of the state would just move on without those people.
Sununu criticized the federal government, both before and after the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January, calling the federal response to the pandemic “cumbersome” and “clunky.” He believes that they set inappropriate expectations regarding the pandemic, contrasting federal messaging with his frequent press conferences over the past year.
After criticizing a lack of support from the federal government last year, on Wednesday he criticized the possibility of too much support from the federal government in the near future, citing a proposed new infrastructure package on the heels of support from the recently enacted $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Sununu said he hopes the almost $2 trillion in infrastructure support current proposed in Washington could be delayed until later this year to ensure that prices for construction materials and contractors do not become too expensive due to scarcity.
Sununu also said he is seeking to work on bringing improved broadband access to New Hampshire due to the likely permanent increase in remote working, and also said he is seeking additional action at the local and state level for greater housing affordability.
On this front, he said he did not believe in study groups, instead believing the answer would come in the form of tax incentives for developers and municipalities, guidance for planning boards and the realization from resistant areas of the state that local economies cannot thrive without additional housing stock.
Sununu also touched on a variety of other issues during the near hour-long discussion with Skelton such as the potential creation of a state Department of Energy and work on the state budget. However, he would not speculate on whether he would run against U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) next fall, stating that he would make a decision on his political future at a later date.
UPDATE: Sununu’s assertion that other New England states are not providing vaccinations to out-of-state students is incorrect, with Connecticut, Massachusetts , Rhode Island and Maine providing vaccinations to students.