CONCORD — People will be required to wear face masks in public starting today, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday as daily cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire rose to a record 529 and hospitalizations jumped to 98, double that of two weeks ago.
Sununu, who resisted imposing a mask mandate while most other states adopted one, signed an emergency order requiring facial coverings for those over age 5 in public, indoors or outdoors, where they are unable to or do not consistently maintain 6 feet of distance from people outside their households.
“Instituting this commonsense mask mandate today will allow us to keep our economy open and help ensure our healthcare system has the capacity and workforce it needs in the coming weeks,” he said in a statement.
“By wearing a mask, Granite Staters can keep our friends, family, neighbors, and critical workforce members and those they care for safe – without shutting down the economy.”
Sununu said the decision to impose the mandate did not come lightly and underscores the seriousness of the situation.
Some in Sununu’s political party have questioned the need for masks.
After Sununu announced the mandate Rep.-elect Keith Ammon tweeted: “I will be attending the House Republican caucus tomorrow without a mask. Try and stop me.”
Sununu said he wouldn’t try to stop him.
“It’s simply about data, it’s about numbers,” Sununu said. “If individuals don’t want to look at the data, understand the data, understand the impact they can have upon their own family and their community, people are going to do what they’re going to do.
“I would encourage everybody to understand it is not about them. This mandate is not about you. It is about those around you. It is about those other members of that caucus. It’s about the legislative body as a whole. It’s about your family. It’s about your workplace. It’s about your schools. It’s about everybody around you.”
He said it’s clear that face masks work. They inhibit the spread of the disease by cutting down on airborne transmission, including from people who don’t know they have the virus.
“It isn’t speculation. It isn’t conjecture. It isn’t a hoax,” Sununu said.
The surge in cases is also real.
“This is so real and it is skyrocketing all across the country,” Sununu said.
Early in the pandemic, Sununu approved emergency orders shutting down parts of the economy. At that time, there was federal assistance in the form Payroll Protection Loans for small businesses and enhanced unemployment compensations.
Those programs have yet to be renewed by Congress, and Sununu said there is not intention to do another shutdown. The priority now, he said, is to try to limit the current surge so that there is adequate hospital capacity to treat those with serious cases of the disease.
Shortly after Sununu's announcement, the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce sent out an email alerting their members. "The Lakes Region Chamber is looking to order additional masks to distribute to our member businesses," the email said. "If you are in need of masks, please let us know."