Sununu to end mask mandate Friday, protective coverings still recommended

  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu along with Health and Human Services Commisioner Lori Shibinette wave as they leave the vaccination area after getting their COVID-19 Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine on Saturday, April 10, 2021 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 4/15/2021 3:54:15 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu will not renew the statewide mask mandate that is set to expire Friday, he announced at a press conference Thursday.

The end of the mandate comes as new cases of COVID-19 are rising in New Hampshire. Over the last week, there have been an average of 440 new cases of the virus, a 12% increase from the week before and just 7 fewer than the number of daily new cases when the mask mandate was originally instituted in mid-November.

However, Sununu used different figures, citing daily death averages, which are less than one a day, which is the lowest point since October of 2020 before the mask mandate was put in place. Plus, about 70% of people 65 and older – the most vulverable to the virus – have been vaccinated, the governor said.

“We have never set arbitrary dates unsupported by the data and the science,” Sununu said. “It is important to note that this mandate going away will not limit or prevent the ability of private businesses and local cities and towns from requiring masks.”

Sununu said the state will continue to see COVID case numbers rise and fall for years to come due to the hundreds of thousands of Granite Staters who choose not to get vaccinated.

“The pandemic is not over and we are not declaring victory by any means,” Sununu said.

He said the state is still encouraging people to wear masks, but is ending the “thou shall must” mandate.

Several local mask mandates will remain in place. Concord City Council voted to extend the face coverings ordinance through June 1 during their Jan. 2021 meeting.

The mask mandate is not the only COVID restriction that is going to disappear in the coming weeks. At a Wednesday meeting with N.H. town and city leaders, Sununu said that he expects “virtually all” of the COVID restrictions on businesses to sunset by May 7.

He said his decision was based on the same metrics the state has been using to educate health policy decisions for the last year. He said the number of daily deaths and hospitalizations are stable while vaccine numbers continue to climb. In fact, confirmed hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been on the rise since mid-March, according to the Department of Health’s hospital dashboard.

“If not now, then when?” Sununu asked. “If you’ve vaccinated everybody in the vulnerable population that wants the vaccine but you don’t get rid of your restrictions, then when are you going to get rid of your restrictions?”

Several states, like Texas and North Dakota, have lifted their mask mandates in recent months as vaccinations. However, Thursday’s announcement makes New Hampshire both the last state in New England to implement a mask mandate and the first state in New England to relax it.

“We really are at the tail end of this,” Sununu said. “Not by months but by weeks and days.”

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