New Hampshire joins rest of region in statewide mask mandate
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — With the coronavirus pandemic intensifying, New Hampshire on Thursday joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.
Previously, masks were required for certain people, including restaurant and retail workers with direct interaction with customers and those attending gatherings of more than 100 people. Sununu had resisted calls for a statewide mandate, even as surrounding states enacted similar measures. Maine and Massachusetts have gone further, requiring masks in public settings regardless of how far apart people stay.
“Masks are important. The message has to be there. They help. There’s no doubt,” Sununu said last week. “But an idea that a mask mandate is going to just solve the problem, that’s a comfort level that I don’t think the data bears out right now.”
On Thursday, he said a mandate was appropriate given the rising percentage of positive test results, the fact that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has doubled in the last two weeks, new outbreaks at five nursing homes and an “incredibly alarming rate” of asymptomatic community transmission.
“Wearing a mask is really all about keeping friends, family, neighbors, critical workforce members and those they care for safe and allowing our economy to stay open,” he said.
The order, which expires Jan. 15, does not apply to students and staff in K-12 schools, those with certain medical conditions, those engaged in strenuous physical activity and in half a dozen other scenarios. It includes no mention of enforcement or penalties. Sununu said authorities would rely instead on education.
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced new outbreaks at Colonial Poplin Nursing Home in Fremont, Maple Leaf Health Care Center in Manchester, Oceanside Center in Hampton, Ridgewood Center in Bedford and the Studley Home in Rochester. Altogether, 88 residents and 29 staff members are infected, she said.
The state is spending $6 million to increase testing at nursing homes statewide, Shibinette said. Officials are recommending that nursing homes begin testing all staff once a week. Currently, only those in communities with higher infection rates are required to do weekly tests. The state also is providing facilities with supplies to test visitors.
More than 15,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic, including 529 new cases announced Thursday. Two new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 506.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 131 new cases per day on Nov. 4 to 371 new cases per day on Nov. 18.
Some holiday traditions are sticking around during the coronavirus pandemic, like Concord’s Christmas Parade, with social distancing and mask-wearing encouraged.
The Saturday event also will be streaming live this year on thegranitechannel.com. It starts at 9:30 a.m.
Parade organizers have named their grand marshal — a Concord Police Department dog named Liberty. The yellow Labrador Retriever helps comfort victims and others who have experienced crisis or trauma.
Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.