CONCORD - Calling it "a rapidly evolving" situation with 13 cases of COVID-19 now in the state, Gov. Chris Sununu announced all public schools are closed and moving to distance learning for the next three weeks.
Sununu said he took the extraordinary measure because in part, the state is fairly well equipped to move to such online capacity and that it would be an important and proactive tool to slow down the spread of the global pandemic "in the 603."
"For a lot of people, especially our kids, this can be a scary time," Sununu said at a news conference at the Incident Planning and Operations Center in Concord. "There's a lot of uncertainty with what's going on. Our job is to ensure that the people of New Hampshire are safe, comfortable and informed."
Sununu stressed watching out for children.
"We need to be there for our kids, to come together as a community in this moment of crisis," Sununu said.
He asked that people be resilient and not panic.
"Our kids will remember how their homes felt a lot more than they'll remember the actual impacts of the virus," Sununu said.
Anyone with questions and concerns can call 2-1-1.
The first week, Sununu said, teachers will still be expected at school to work on plans to implement distance-based learning.
On Monday parents should feel that they can stay home from work if necessary because he is expanding unemployment compensation.
According to the Emergency Order (see below), each school shall begin to provide temporary remote instruction and support no later than March 23.
Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said at least 27 percent of all the children in the state are eligible for free and reduced meals.
New Hampshire received a waiver from the USDA on Saturday that allows broad support for how to provide for food services to students. School bus drivers and others can deliver food to students who rely otherwise on schools depending on the district's plans.
On Saturday, Senate President Donna Soucy and Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff announced the Legislature has suspended all legislative activities for at least one week, March 16 - 20.
The State House will be closed to legislative members, legislative staff, and visitors but remain open for governmental operations until further notice.
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said the new COVID-19 cases, up from seven on Saturday, are in Nashua in Hillsborough County, and in Rockingham and Grafton counties.
He said it is believed all have contracted the virus from travel or contact with those who have traveled to areas where the virus has spread.
Chan did say he expects that with time, the state will see community-based transmissions.
Sununu said there are moments in one's life that are truly transformational and he said he knows it may be tough for families to get through this public health emergency.
The order does not apply to private schools. Commissioner Edelblut has been in contact with them, and most are following the same course, but the governor's order does not apply to them.
Paula Tracy is a senior writer for InDepthNH.org