Gov. Sununu issues statewide mask mandate for N.H.

  • Nov. 19 COVID-19 cases in N.H.

  • N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu stands with supporters at a polling station at Windham, N.H. High School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Windham. Sununu, a Republican, faces Democrat Dan Feltes in the gubernatorial election. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 11/19/2020 4:09:56 PM

Starting Friday, Granite Staters will be required to wear masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible, Gov. Chris Sununu announced at a press conference Thursday.

Until today, masks have only been required by the state at gatherings with more than 100 people. Sununu said there will be no penalty for individuals who choose to flout the new mandate.

“We always work with individuals in the state,” he said. “Education is the best tool and that’s what we’re going to rely on.”

The emergency order allows those with a medical condition or who have difficulty breathing to decline to wear a mask without documentation of their condition. Settings that already have prescribed mask requirements, like schools and restaurants, will continue using their mask guidelines. Children under 5 years old are also not required to wear masks under this mandate. 

All other New England states and most other states in the country have already implemented similar mask mandates. Massachusetts and Maine tightened their requirements earlier this month to require masks even when social distancing is possible.

For much of the pandemic, Sununu has avoided a statewide policy toward masks – while he encouraged the public to wear them and often donned them himself, he deferred mandates and enforcement to local officials.

Several cities within the state, including Concord, Nashua, Manchester, and most recently, Berlin, have implemented local mask ordinances to stunt the spread of COVID-19. Stricter local mask requirements will override the statewide mask mandate. Many towns, however, have not. During the current wave of the virus, the hotbeds of COVID have been in areas of the state without mandates like most of Coos County.

Sununu resisted the idea of a statewide mask mandate as recently as last week.

“If the idea is that if we just do a mask mandate our numbers will go down, that’s not true at all,” he said at last Thursday’s press conference.

But in a week, a lot has changed – hospitalizations and average daily new cases have increased by nearly a third, outbreaks are rampant at 11 Granite State nursing homes, and deaths are steadily rising.

Sununu said his decision was not based on one single metric but a combination of factors like hospitalization rates, outbreaks in long-term care facilities, and the number of counties with a substantial spread of the virus.

“This is a statewide issue more than ever before,” he said.

This mandate seems to be just one area in which the state is cracking down on COVID safety precautions. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office fined three businesses Wednesday for failing to abide by employee mask guidelines.

It’s still unclear whether the state will return to the restrictions imposed in March, which closed restaurants and stores to in-person traffic aside from “essential” businesses.

A new analysis released Thursday morning by the New York Times found states that imposed the fewest restrictions are experiencing the worst coronavirus outbreaks. New Hampshire was placed in the “intermediate control measures” category, along with Wyoming, Florida, and Minnesota, all of which are facing large outbreaks.

At a roundtable on Monday, local officials were critical of Sununu’s handling of the mask requirements. Paul Grenier, the mayor of Berlin, said Sununu’s mandate efforts are too little too late.

“He needs to get up in front of the room and swallow the same pills that the local people are swallowing. Do whatever it takes,” he said. “We’re eyeball deep into this problem and I think when you get to this point it’s too late.”

On Wednesday, there were 447 new cases announced in the state and were 4,767 active cases, according to the state dashboard for COVID-19. The state has had 504 deaths associated with the virus.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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