Trish, left, and John Portanova dine inside on the patio at the La Carreta restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. on Monday, June 15, 2020. Credit: Charles Krupa / AP

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire restaurants will be allowed to move tables closer together starting Oct. 1 if they install barriers between them, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.

Currently, tables must be placed at least 6 feet apart to reduce the risk of the coronavirus. With the weather getting colder, restaurants have been asking the state to loosen restrictions for indoor dining. Sununu said he rejected requests to allow bars and restaurants to resume the use of dart boards and other games as unsafe, given that they would put players in close proximity to each other. But he believes increasing the number of tables will be ok, with barriers installed.

“We’re very confident we can move forward with this model in a safe manner,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, the chair of the governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force said some restrictions on outdoor dining also will be adjusted in hopes of prolonging that option. Currently, restaurants that serve meals under tents are required to keep all sides open, but the new rules would allow them to drop two or three of the sides to increase warmth. They also would be allowed to use space heaters, pending approval of local fire officials, said D.J. Bettencourt.

The state has not seen outbreaks associated with restaurants, said Beth Daly, chief of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease Control. But based on contact tracing investigations, health officials are concerned that people are letting their guard down when it comes to gathering with friends and family.

“We can’t regulate these settings, backyard barbecues, birthday parties or other types of social gatherings,” she said. “But we want to emphasize that these types of events that occur are potentially high risk for covid-19 transmission.”

Story by Holly Ramer

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