Task Force hears reopening challenges from performing arts, massage industries

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Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. Photo/Wikipedia

CONCORD, NH – Officials representing the state’s performing arts community and the bodywork and massage industry presented challenges they face to reopening this summer in the COVID-19 world.

Nicolette Clarke, executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, said given the layout of the old theaters and occupancy requirements for sustainability, some or all of the state’s performing arts centers may “remain dark for part or all of the 2020-2021 performing year.”

And licensed massage therapist Vickie Branch said her profession is split on whether it is safe to open at this time.

Both offered the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force at Thursday’s meeting some potential guidelines Gov. Chris Sununu should consider to safely allow their properties to reopen to the public.

On Friday, the committee will host a public input session by phone from 9 to 11 a.m. and in the afternoon, receive a presentation on opening up Hampton Beach.

To provide input, dial 1-800-356-8278 and use the pin 600744.

Trish Tilley, deputy director of the New Hampshire Division of Public Health, who has been advising the task force, gave an update on the pandemic before the presentations Thursday and urged members to take “a measured, data-informed” approach to developing guidance for reopenings across the state.

She noted while the COVID-19 statistics are moving in the right direction, and people have helped to “flatten the curve” by staying at home, the state is still battling the virus.

On Wednesday, the state reported 19 deaths from the novel coronavirus with a total number of deaths in the state at 111.
She said over 28,000 have been tested and 26,000 have had negative results.
That means the state is facing a 10 percent positivity rate, but that number goes up and down depending on groups tested and daily numbers of total tests processed.

Right now, Tilley said the state is going “full tilt,” with testing with over 1,000 specimens processed each day and the opportunity for anyone to get a test if they have fever or coughing or other symptoms, without having to first go to the doctor by dialing 2-1-1.

The state still has over 1,500 active COVID-19 cases, over 2,900 are being monitored isolated/or quarantined for exposure to COVID-19 patients, Tilley said.

She said the state is transitioning into a containment strategy and the department is bringing on new individuals to test and act as contact tracers to help reduce the spread of the virus.

“We are, all of us in New Hampshire, relying on our task force members….to lead us through the challenges that lie ahead,” in reopening the economy Tilley said.

Performing Arts

Clarke said there are real costs associated with putting on performances and the 800- to 1,200-seat venues like the Portsmouth Music Hall, Lebanon Opera House, Colonial Theater and the Capitol Center not only attract local performers but traveling artists which can be problematic in a pandemic.

She asked the task force to form a working group on guidance for performing arts venues, which was done Thursday. Clarke also suggested a special fund for sanitization of the venues noting they are not in a financial position to afford personal protective equipment. And she asked for some expertise to address reconfiguring occupancy in these buildings for health safety.

In the past, people would sit “elbow-to-elbow” in these sold-out theaters, “making reopening very complicated to figure out” Clarke said.
She also asked that the performing arts community be included in any educational webinars on business liability.

Tupelo Music Hall in Derry is doing drive-in performances, said D.J. Bettencourt, noting there may be some opportunities to consider such transition of venues.

The costs associated with maintaining the buildings even without a single patron is of concern.

“We have to figure a way to get these places up and operating,” Clarke said. Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, and Rep. Tim Lang R-Sanbornton have volunteered to work on a subcommittee on performing arts.

Massage, Bodywork

There are almost 1,900 massage licenses and about 50 bodyworkers in New Hampshire, Branch said.

A reopening could be considered regionally as some who practice near a “hot spot” like Massachusetts might be less likely to open initially while other areas where there are very few COVID-19 cases might be able to return to practice, she said.

Branch said the industry provides “much more than a back rub,” including therapeutic work on postoperative scar tissue, help with chronic low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and relief from other ailments.

The state’s chiropractic industry is open and it, like massage, lay hands on their patients to achieve relief and care.

“Social distancing is impossible to achieve in any form” of massage and bodywork, Branch said, and the time spent in a session is typically 60 to 90 minutes.

The industry has completed a template with national recommendations and that has been reviewed by the state licensing office.

For more information, including individual industry proposed guidelines, visit https://www.nheconomy.com/reopeningtaskforce.

About this Author

Paula Tracy

Veteran reporter Paula Tracy writes for InDepthNH.org