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.
Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.