Concord, NH --As New Hampshire enters the popular summer tourist season, positive test rates have been trending in the right direction, however, state officials point out that rises in case numbers elsewhere in the US means the state is still at risk of a second wave of infections that could further hobble the tourism industry.
New Hampshire's tourism industry has been hard hit by stay-at-home orders and quarantine efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. The unemployment rate for New Hampshire was 14.5% in May, with a significant number of those impacted from the state’s hospitality industry. According to the Department of Employment Services, 42,300 people in the Leisure and Hospitality industry lost their jobs between March and April of 2020. Fortunately the state has seen some of those jobs return as New Hampshire businesses begin to reopen for the summer tourist season, however the economic impact of those weeks of lost income, and in some cases lost health care benefits, will continue throughout the months ahead. Tourism is New Hampshire's second-largest industry, generating more than $5 billion each year in the state and supporting 70,000 jobs.
A Summer Like No Other
New Hampshire recently lifted travel restrictions on people visiting from other New England states, eliminating the requirement to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Travel from other New England states has long been the main source of tourists in New Hampshire, however, as Christopher Bellis, owner of the Cranmore Inn in North Conway, recently told NHPR that people’s travel habits are changing.
“There’s definitely a lot more day trippers who are coming up. How people are choosing to travel I believe is different this year," he said. "And I believe more people are doing campgrounds and Airbnbs where they feel somehow more protected.”
Economic and Health Impacts
Michael Polizzotti, Policy Analyst for the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, recently wrote about the strain COVID-related unemployment has had on the state’s workforce. Census statistics from May reveal that“about 44% of householdsreported experiencing an income loss since March 13; the reported levels of nervousness, anxiety, and worry were higher among these households.”
“Even while state revenues fall,” wrote Polizzotti, “key services providing mental health and substance use disorder support will only become more important to Granite Staters and may need to be expanded. Additional support for mental health services may be necessary to assist those requiring care during and after this crisis.”
While many businesses are welcoming people back with the same hospitality New Hampshire has always been known for, increases in visitors in the Lakes and White Mountain regions means more travel to regions with the oldest populations and the most sparse availability of medical care.
As Dr. Michael Calderwood, associate chief quality officer and regional epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center recently toldthe New Hampshire Union Leader, “As you get further north in the state and more rural, you’re going to have fewer medical facilities, and so if a cluster is occurring in one of those locations, you’ll either have a hospital that doesn’t have the capacity, or you’ll need to transfer to other hospitals. Those transfers aren’t always easy with somebody who’s quite sick.”
Lack of National Leadership
New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases are trending in the right direction, but as the tourism industry begins to reopen, there is growing worry in the Granite State that mishandling of the crisis elsewhere will lead to higher rates in coming weeks.
Rising rates in the South and West regions of the US are alarming to New Hampshire health experts. Lack of leadership, politicization of preventative measures, such as wearing face masks and social distancing, and a general weariness of the virus all led to spikes in COVID-19 rates across the country. Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, recently warned that it is still too early to “go back to normal.”
The spread of the virus from other parts of the country could become a concern if people travel here. Increases in cases would not only put the health of the state’s residents at risk, it would likely impact the state’s tourism industry first, as many travelers will be staying in hotels and inns and dining in local restaurants. A rise in infection rates could also cause another stay-at-home order that closes restaurants, lodging and other destinations, handing this hard-hit industry another set-back.
“The health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis will be severe, and will likely impact workers in some of New Hampshire’s largest employment sectors most dramatically,” he wrote. “Many of these Granite Staters were likely those already living with very limited incomes and resources, and will need additional supports to weather this crisis without lasting harm to their economic stability.”