CONCORD — The state will step up enforcement of pandemic precautions at bars and restaurants and impose a new mask requirement for large groups, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday, 11 days before thousands of people are expected to descend on Laconia during annual Motorcycle Week.
He said the new provisions came after he saw photos of masses of unmasked people at a rally under way in Sturgis, South Dakota.
“Sturgis was a clear warning sign to us,” Sununu said at an afternoon news conference. “I don't think anybody saw the photos out of Sturgis and said that looks good.”
Under a new emergency order, people will need to wear masks during events involving 100 people or more.
“We know a spike could occur at any time,” Sununu said. “We know large events often have people coming from out of state and can be super spreader events.
“We will not hesitate to impose penalties or fines for those who willfully or dangerously violate the rules we put forth.”
Social distancing requirements that prohibit people from milling around at bars and restaurants will be strictly enforced by liquor enforcement officers. Establishments will want to comply to ensure their liquor license is not jeopardized, the governor said.
“We have seen in other states people packing into bars and not maintaining social distancing. We want to be proactive.”
Police Chief Matt Canfield said his officers are working with liquor control authorities to ensure owners of establishments in The Weirs and elsewhere are aware of and will comply with social distancing and other precautions.
“If they have overcrowding, people not in designated seating areas, liquor enforcement can pull their liquor license and that would pretty much shut those businesses down — that’s not our goal by any means but we are going to be very serious about mask usage and social distancing,” Canfield said. “I think they will work with us and abide by that.”
Earlier Tuesday, the governor was on a conference call with various state and local officials to discuss Motorcycle Week.
“The state has a lot of tools, the city has a lot of tools, the organizers have a lot of experience,” Sununu said. “Coming out of it, we were confident Motorcycle Week can be handled in a safe and viable manner.”
He also said the Laconia event, which will not have its usual vendors and food and beer tents, will be much different from and smaller than the Sturgis rally, where there are many vendors.
Motorcycle Week is known to attract visitors from across the country, and even across the world.
New Hampshire has a requirement that people self attest to having undergone a 14-day quarantine period before traveling to the state from outside New England.
Sununu doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“The vast majority of folks you see this year will likely be from New England,” he said.
Motorcycle Week Association Executive Director Charlie St. Clair said this is a unique situation for the rally, so attendance will be difficult to predict. Travel difficulties and concerns could keep a lot of people home.
“All bets are off, but things are going to be on a much smaller scale this year,” St. Clair said in a telephone interview from the Sturgis area.
He said he would get a COVID-19 test after he rides his motorcycle back to New Hampshire.
“I’ve been keeping my mask on and staying away from people,” said St. Clair, who has been sleeping in a tent at a campground and not visiting the Sturgis Main Street.