ROCHESTER - The bad news? There's going to be a surge of COVID cases this fall.
The good news? There will be no need to shut down like we did in March 2020.
That was the big takeaway from New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu's exclusive interview with The Rochester Voice on Thursday.
Gov. Sununu's visit to Rochester began with a meet and greet at several Rochester businesses including Sprinkles and Smiles candy store on North Main and ended with a tour of the Rochester Opera House, including the machinery that enables the last moving floor of its kind to be raised or lowered to accommodate various events.
|Gov. Chris Sununu chats with ROH Executive Director Anthony Ejarque, left, and ROH Board of Directors President John McKenna during one of his stops in the Lilac City on Thursday.|
Rochester Opera House Executive Producer Anthony Ejarque thanked the governor for coming down and told him that the live venue relief program provided by CARES Act funds greatly helped the Rochester Opera House, but also noted that the recent surge in COVID cases continues to do damage, most recently in the canceling of two plays that had been in production: a reprise of the 2019 ROH smash hit Mamma Mia! and a Frankie Valli musical.
"It's just too tough to do it," Ejarque said. "All the money and time and work that goes into it, and one person gets sick and you're done."
Ejarque and ROH Board of Directors president John McKenna told Sununu they remained upbeat but were waiting patiently for things to get back to normal so larger, homegrown theatrical shows can come back.
Sununu told The Rochester Voice that while the virus continues to disrupt Granite Staters' lives, he's confident any fall uptick is very unlikely to lead to a full shutdown like it did 18 months ago.
"I feel confident that while the numbers will increase greatly this fall, I don't anticipate any lockdowns now or in the near future," he said, adding that New Hampshire has a robust health infrastructure and that his administration is in constant contact with health providers to make sure they are prepared for any scenario.
"We check with them on staffing, on therapeutics, so they can treat patients and get them back home," he said. "We're making sure the system is resilient before the heavy (fall) surge comes."
Sununu, who voiced optimism and pride for how the state is rebounding economically from the COVID lockdowns and restrictions, saved his sharpest criticism for Washington, blasting the Biden administration for its poor messaging during the vaccine rollouts earlier this year and the self-inflicted humanitarian fiasco now taking place in Afghanistan, where thousands of American lives are unnecessarily being put at risk thanks to its mishandling of troop withdrawal.
As far as the administration's initial vaccine rollout, he said it didn't take long for its messaging that "vaccines would take us back to normal" fell apart when breakthrough cases began to appear and the need for booster shots became apparent.
"There has been confusing and conflicting messaging out of the White House and the CDC for some time now," he added. "We always suspected you might need a booster. We may need one ever year."
His frustration turned to anger, however, when asked about the New Hampshire residents still caught in the crossfire around Kabul, where outright chaos has broken out as Taliban forces have taken over the capital and are in full control in and around the airport from which many Americans and their Afghan allies are trying desperately to escape.
"It's chaos, and its a tragedy in that it (the Biden evacuation plan) was clearly not thought out, not well planned and as a result you have American citizens whose lives are at risk," Sununu fumed. "This administration failed to dive in to the source of the problem and find a good solution to work through."
He said what the Biden administration has said, and what the president, himself, has said don't add up.
"The administration said it would be a safe, orderly transition," Sununu went on. "Then we hear the president say, 'We always knew it would be chaos.' That's not fair to the 10,000 American citizens that are over there. There are New Hampshire citizens over there - there's nothing political about this - we just want them safe. My opinion is you send in as many troops as are needed for however long is needed to get them home safely. Don't put in arbitrary deadlines, just get the job done."
Sununu sent a letter earlier this week to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken asking how many Granite Staters had reached out for help, what were his plans to safely evacuate them and asking if there was anything he as governor could he do to help.
Asked if he'd received any reply, the governor only grimaced.
"You're kidding right?" he quipped. "No, nothing, this administration is terrible about communication. We deserve answers, we deserve communication and the respect of a response. They're not good managers, and now you have lives at risk overseas."