By Andrew J. Manuse
Gov. Sununu upended New Hampshire with what he called an “extraordinary step” to “save lives and ensure that health care facilities can remain nimble and adequately staffed and resourced” in his March 13 State of Emergency declaration.
It is “imperative … to prepare to respond to an increasing number of individuals requiring medical care and hospitalization,” he wrote in his first State of Emergency order. Around the same time, a fear-mongering “conservative estimate” published by the Harvard Global Health Institute said that 30,000 people in New Hampshire would need hospitalization due to the novel Coronavirus, and 6,500 ICU beds would need to be set aside just for Covid-19 patients.
ReopenNH didn’t exist when this was happening, because we believed like everyone else that the precautionary approach seemed reasonable for the initial 21-day State of Emergency period specified by state law. We came to exist; however, as it became clearer that the presumed threat from Covid-19 wasn’t going to materialize as projected and the actual threat was from a governor whose “extraordinary” measures continued. Nine months later, 12 State of Emergency renewals and 74 emergency orders have usurped the whole power of government into one office.
It is abundantly clear that we—unfortunately—were right to raise red flags about the governor’s “extraordinary” power. According to Health Forum, LLC, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, New Hampshire had an average of 2,800 hospital beds available between 2014 and 2018, with very little variation in those years. The governor rightly sought to increase available beds in the early days of Covid-19, and by April 3, he had increased surge capacity to 5,000 beds. However, the number of beds used by Covid-19 inpatients peaked at only 6.62 percent of capacity, according to data from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The percentage of beds used for all ailments remained constant during this time—only 65 percent of capacity. Even after the never-used surge beds were removed in the late spring, there has never been a threat of approaching capacity. Covid-19 patients occupy about 6 percent of hospital beds as of the end of November.
When surge capacity was removed, this should have marked the end of the State of Emergency. There had been no influx of new hospitalizations from Covid-19. This was the moment that a miscalculation turned into a lie. It was a tacit admission that the stated rationale for the State of Emergency never existed to begin with, and yet the governor continued to renew his autocratic emergency powers.
Months later, the threat that the governor continues to use to rationalize his power has never materialized. The new cases often reported with sensationalized headlines are a result of more testing—an increase from roughly 500 tests a day in the Spring to an average of 10,000 tests per day toward the end of the Fall, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services daily updates. While the positivity rate in the Spring peaked at around 23 percent, we’re now hovering between 3 percent and 5 percent.
Sadly, the governor’s unnecessary grasp at power has led to social and economic damage—including loss of lives and livelihoods—that will dwarf the direct consequences of the Covid-19 virus. At the Covid-19 Legislator Policy Summit RebuildNH hosted on Monday, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard University, said lockdown policies have been “the biggest public health folly of the last 100 years.” They’ve been more than this. They’ve been an immoral foray into American authoritarianism that has put every single Granite Stater at the mercy of one man.
The governor has implemented regulations that legitimately belong to the Legislature—a State of Emergency shouldn’t change that. The governor’s usurpation of powers isn’t a partisan issue either, as former senate presidents Bob Clegg (R) and Dan Feltes (D) made clear in a recent op-ed. It doesn’t matter that Republicans like me wouldn’t like how Democrats in the Legislature would have spent federal stimulus dollars, it only matters that they had the lawful authority to spend it and the governor unlawfully took that from them.
The time has come for this governor’s unbridled power to end. As long as the State of Emergency persists, the unneeded and unlawful mask mandates and executive branch actions continue to punish those who do not obey. The newly elected Legislature has a duty to take back the authority that rightly belongs to the General Court. The data is on their side, even though it is being ignored by state health department officials. Speaker Dick Hinch and Senate President Chuck Morse: Please be the leaders that our governor has not been, look past partisanship, and restore our Republic.
Andrew J. Manuse is chairman of RebuildNH, an organization devoted to ending the State of Emergency in New Hampshire and returning the state to liberty and prosperity.